Monday, 16 February 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1218: Who Weeps For Stewart

Jon Stewart announced that he's leaving his fake-news-comedy program The Daily Show and the media promptly wet itself with grief. For days afterwards everyone with an internet connection was bombarded with people wailing and rending their garments over losing the voice of the younger generation.

Which makes this article on Five Thirty-Eight very intriguing since it boiled down the numbers of who watched and listened to Jon Stewart to see just who he was influencing.

Turns out Stewart was looking at declining ratings, declining influence, and an aging demographic where the average age went from 35 to 40. It seems Stewart's most devoted audience was his colleagues in the media and they were the secret of his success and his supposed influence.

The only times I went a week without seeing someone somewhere posting a think-piece about how Jon Stewart "destroyed" some politician he didn't like was when he was on vacation. The people in the media loved him, and they proclaimed this love from every rooftop.

This created the impression of influence far beyond the actual people he was influencing, the majority of them probably already voted his way anyway.

He achieve a perfect state of being what I call a "Media Appealer." A celebrity whose success is based almost entirely on their appeal to their colleagues in the media.

His emergence as a media superstar was perfectly timed. Rivals Jay Leno and David Letterman were on a long decline. Both had lost interest in their work and their guests, and seem most interested in outlasting the other by any means necessary except being the most entertaining.

The critics and media navel gazers needed someone to talk about. They already looked down on Leno, and knew Letterman was only interested in proving that he was somehow better than his guests and the audience, and needed someone to love.

That someone was Jon Stewart.

Their adulation was how Stewart could sneak in and become the highest paid host in late night television, earning $25-$30 million a year double the salaries of Leno and Letterman, despite averaging half their  numbers in real audiences, even during his peak times at election years. Comedy Central thought they were paying the most influential man in the country because everyone in their social circle told them he was.

However, all good things must come to an end. Leno is out, Letterman is on his way out, new blood is getting into late night, including his former colleague, channel-mate, and fellow media darling Stephen Colbert, and at any moment any one of them could snatch the media's precious love from Stewart.

Stewart's a smart man, and he probably saw that this new competition was going to make Comedy Central take a long hard look at his numbers in relation to his salary, and figured it was best to go out while he was still the media's favourite.

Because in comedy, timing is everything.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1217: Jupiter & Originality Descending?

Jupiter Ascending did more of a swift descent and crashed and burned very dramatically. The $173 million sci-fi epic was sunk by the continuing popularity of American Sniper, and SpongeBob Squarepants

Some are saying that its failure is the final nail in the coffin of "original" films not based on previously existing franchise style properties, like comic books, novels, and TV/Movie remakes.

If the fate of original storytelling hung on the shoulders of the Wachowskis it has been doomed for a long time. First, Jupiter Ascending isn't all that original, and on a surface level comes across as a rehash of The Matrix.


Think about it, a person who is way too good looking for their job (Mila Kuni/Janitor/Keanu Reeves/Office-Drone turned hacker) discovers all they know is a fraud, they are the chosen one and must save humanity from a wildly impractical and lethal form of exploitation. In the case of The Matrix its using humans as batteries by robots when the script says they already have nuclear fusion and in Jupiter Ascending its the harvesting of the human race by what can be summed up as an evil cosmetics/pharmaceutical company.

Personally if the fate of originality hung on Jupiter Ascending, then it shows just how weak originality is in Hollywood.

Allow me to explain.

Now Variety and the other doomsayers have a point. Some studio executives will look at Jupiter's failure and say: "See, audiences don't want to see something that doesn't have an already familiar title. So let's reboot that reboot of the remake we did last year."

There's a word for executives who think like that.

That word is "IDIOT."

That mindset comes from just looking at the surface of the issue, but what really sank Jupiter Ascending can be boiled down to one word: INDULGENCE.

Studio people won't see the indulgence, because they had a hand in it. You see, when the first Matrix came out of nowhere and became a monster hit that spawned hundreds of imitators Warner Brothers entered a very rare territory.

The Wachowski Siblings were being hailed as visionaries by critics, and were selling tickets like nobody's business. Thinking they had the perfect storm WB pretty much gave the Wachowskis an almost blank check.

There were limits. They first denied the Wachowskis their idea of doing one sequel, and a prequel about the rise of the machines and the creation of the titular Matrix, but allowed them almost unlimited resources to grind out the visual effects heavy mayhem they had become known for.

That led to the second film being stretched, and many say botched, to fit two films that tried to fill in the gaps in the ideas of truckloads of CGI.

This put the Wachowskis on a downward spiral of cinematic indulgence. The budgets got bigger, the on screen CGI got busier, but the stories and ideas became thinner and the box-office got weaker and weaker.

Warner Brothers kept the money tap going hoping for a return of some of that Matrix magic, and the Wachowskis learned how to play the studio game, pretty masterfully.

You may not remember what it took for the Wachowskis to get the green light for Jupiter. Back in 2011 they had already been cleared for Cloud Atlas, but the studio was getting leery of their relationship with the prickly siblings. Cloud Atlas was a risky bet, that Warner Bros. eventually lost, and they were looking to mitigate their losses on the next Wachowski project.

The Wachowskis played them like a fiddle. They gave them a choice, a "Hard-R" anti-Iraq war movie about gay lovers plotting to kill George W. Bush that would cost $100 million, or a much more expensive sci-fi epic called Jupiter Ascending.

Given a choice between a guaranteed money-loser with a big budget or a bigger budget project with a chance, they once again let the Wachowskis run wild.

Presented with a film that promised nothing but visual indulgence from filmmakers who have been disappointing them in terms of story and emotional connection since 2003 the audience just sighed and stayed home.

That's why Jupiter Ascending flopped.

It's not originality that killed it, it was overindulgence in ego and special effects.

Not that any studio bosses will see that.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1216: The Great Weinstein Intern Auction

No, Harvey Weinstein is not auctioning off the company interns…at least not yet.



What Harvey Weinstein did was auction off a three month unpaid internship with his company for $25,000 with some of that cash going to the ACLU of Southern California.

Let me sum it up: Someone with a lot of money paid $25,000 so their college age kid can run errands and get yelled at for three months with no salary.

So why did they do it?

Was it for charity?

Probably not.

Was it out of love for Harvey Weinstein?

Definitely not.

What was really up for sale at the auction was a chance to touch the keys to the kingdom of show business. A chance to mount the greasy pole of Hollywood executive advancement in the only way that's possible now.

There are those who are criticizing the auction saying that it favours the rich and connected and hinders diversity in the film business.

OF COURSE IT DOES, THE WHOLE INTERN-TO-EXECUTIVE SYSTEM IS DELIBERATELY DESIGNED TO FAVOUR THE RICH AND CONNECTED, WEINSTEIN'S AUCTION WAS JUST BEING HONEST ABOUT IT!!!

Hollywood management is evolving into the sort of snooty hyper-exclusive country club that Hollywood movies would make fun of by having the Marx Brothers or Bill Murray engage in a variety of wacky antics. If you are not born into the narrow socio-economic circle that currently runs the show, you will NEVER enter it because the way there is extremely narrow.

If you want to become an executive in Hollywood there is only one set of steps you need to follow.

STEP 1: Be born into the right family.

This family have to have two things: MONEY and CONNECTIONS. If you don't have one you will not get the other. 

STEP 2: Be accepted into the right schools.

Now you're probably thinking about Ivy League schools like Harvard, and you'll be partially right. Partially because you'll need to attend the right pre-K, the right kindergarten, the right elementary school, the right junior high and the right high school. While at these institutions of learning you must belong to the right clubs and teams with other right people.

Then you get into the right university.

Once there you must join the right clubs, fraternities and/or sororities, so you meet other people from the right circles so you can...

STEP 3: Use the connections you got from being born into the right family and going to the right school to get the right internship.

We're not talking about being a coffee-fetcher on some indie film, we're talking about working in an office surrounded by other people who got where they are the exact same way you are.

This is an unpaid position, which means you will need a substantial allowance from mommy and daddy to not only buy food, clothing, and shelter, but to have the RIGHT food, clothing, and shelter, and show the people you're working for that you don't really need to work for them to survive.

STEP 4: Use family, school, and internship connections to get the right job as an assistant.

As long as you don't screw up totally, you can then have the connections to get a job as an assistant to an executive. While a paying position the pay is deliberately shitty because the last thing they want is someone who actually has to live on an assistant's salary. Those kinds of people don't have the right "look" for the office, and won't be parking the right sort of car in their lot, and need to be kept far-far away.

STEP 5: Don't set yourself or the office building on fire.

Then you're on your way to a nice corner office.

Many complain about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, especially in its executive suites. But they look at solely in terms of skin colour, and skin colour is only looking skin deep at the issue.

Hollywood management has a terrible lack of diversity in literally every facet of society. Some may look at the Golden Age of Hollywood and think that its management was even less diverse than it is now since it was 100% male, 100% caucasian and about 85-90% Jewish. But go beyond the statistics and look at them as individuals they all had different backstories, places of origin, as well as wildly divergent opinions on everything from taste in movies, to politics, to business management, and economics.

As the early moguls built their companies they encountered and did business with wide swathes of American society. When it came to recruiting, they looked for ambition, drive, and brains, money was the bait they used to lure the best talent, and connections were something those new faces had to build on their own, or fail.

This means that the old school moguls and their minions knew more about the wider society they were dealing with, than many of today's modern executives who spend their entire life within an ever-decreasing social circle where everyone agrees with everyone else on everything and can't possibly imagine anyone who thinks, acts, or looks different than them being worth their time.    

Internships for dollars is just a minor symptom, a narrow minded inbred cliquish management culture is the real disease.

And the great irony of all this is that Weinstein was probably the last true outsider to become a major player in modern Hollywood, but now he's just another piece on their chessboard, and it ain't a king or a queen.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On 1215: Hollywood's Model Trap


I've discussed the basics of movies and money before, but I'm going to expand on them a little here and talk about a trap that lies deep within the current Hollywood business model. I've talked, frequently about how Hollywood's self-fulfilling idiocy is causing an inflation in film production costs not seen outside of Weimar Germany, and that most major studio films need to break records to just break even, and that's including the precious international market.


And yet, the people running Hollywood don't seem to be worried about this situation.

Why?
Artist's conception of a studio executive.

Well, it might be because they expect to be fired with a golden handshake before everything goes tits up, but I suspect that it's because the Ivy League educated industry brain trust think they have it covered.

They don't see the fact that it's next to impossible for a film to turn a profit in theatres as a problem.

That's because they think their profit margins come from 2 things.

MERCHANDISE: This covers everything from toys to t-shirts, and everything in between. This works by licensing the name and imagery associated with a film to the manufacturers of the merchandise for either a flat up-front fee, a piece of the profits, or both.

HOME VIEWING: This includes broadcast and cable television airings, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, purchases & rentals on iTunes, and sales of DVDs and Blu-Rays.

Now let's look at the problems inherent in these methods and how they can potentially crash the major Hollywood studios.

MERCHANDISE: Manufacturers of movie-related merchandise would prefer to license projects with a track record rather than risk their money on things they know nothing about. Things like comic book characters, old movies and TV shows. Basically superheroes and remakes.

These come with multiple problems:

1. Franchises can burn out, and most remakes fail to win a new audience leaving the manufacturers with a bunch of merchandise they can't move because everyone is sick of the sight of their subject.

2. It's next to impossible to develop new wholly original projects & franchises, even ones with great merchandise potential.

3. Pre-existing properties often come with pre-existing hands out. Creators, publishers, lawyers, are all looking for their piece of the pie, and if they don't get it, then the expensive litigation starts.

HOME VIEWING: The problems of profiting from home viewing revenue are three fold.

1. SYNERGY: Most of the broadcast and cable television outlets are owned by the parent companies of the major studios. They call this "synergy" and was sold to the brain trust as a way to keep profits in house. In theory the movie division makes the movies and sells them in theatres, then the broadcast/cable division sells them on TV, and the money rolls in.

What happens in reality is that the studio's films don't get the same prices for the broadcast licenses that they would have landed if they were in a competitive bidding environment. Plus, outside of a handful of family films and holiday fare, when was the last time you saw a major network air a previously theatrically released movie in prime time. It just doesn't happen very often anymore.

Most movies end up running on cable channels, which don't pay as much as the networks, and their licensing agreements usual involve rerunning them until the tapes wear out for decreasing amounts of money.

Even then, an increasing number of channels are producing their own content because in many cases it's cheaper than paying the licensing fees the studios are asking for.

2. STREAMING OUTLETS: The model for streaming outlets like Netflix and Amazon is to pay out a huge chunk of cash to license films in bulk from the studios.

That means that each individual film don't make that much money. The studios think that's great, because it allows for them to still claim losses on the films and get out of paying profit shares. But that means that people with clout who get profit shares will demand more cash up front, and the self-fulfilling idiocy will only grow.

The studios think that since streaming revenue is skyrocketing that the good times will never end. Well, all good things come to a crashing halt. The streaming services will reach a point where they will say: "We're not going to pay that much for these movies" and that revenue will plummet.

Amazon and Netflix are already having some success with producing and releasing their own content. Soon there will be a tipping point where they will see that it's much more profitable to just make and sell their own shows and movies, just like the cable channels.

Then what?

3. REPEAT VIEWINGS: DVD & Blu-Ray rentals have pretty much completely disappeared, and sales have been in a decline for so long folks don't remember the times when they sold well. Also ratings for airings of recent movies don't exactly burn up the Nielsen ratings, especially when they were theatrical blockbusters.

Why?


Because most big blockbusters don't really inspire a desire to see them again.

I can watch The Thin Man pretty much any time TCM decides to air it, and I can watch most of the Bond films on an annual basis. But the majority of recent movies don't spark a desire to see them again and again and again. 

Spectacle might sell tickets in the theatre, but its quality in story, characters, and filmmaking that make the most spectacle filled blockbuster bearable to be seen more than twice.

All these problems will eventually converge, and the major studios will be forced to rethink their business model, or go the way of the dinosaur.

Maybe they might want to turn a profit in theatres as a good way to start?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1214: All-Girl Ghostbusters - the Perils & Pitfalls

Well, it's pretty much all but official.


The long simmering all-women reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise has entered final negotiations with the cast Paul Feig wants to don the proton packs. 

Melissa McCarthy is signed on, and final talks are going on with Bridesmaids co-star Kristin Wiig, and Saturday Night Live cast-members Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon.


This event is being touted as the biggest victory for feminism since women got the vote.

But is it?

Think about it for a minute.

We're not talking about Hollywood developing an original, female-driven franchise.

What we are talking about is Hollywood tossing women a franchise that's been considered more or less dead since 1989, and even then it was only because the original cast was unavailable due to busyness, contrariness, or mortality.

To me that's not a victory, but more like getting the scraps of something unwanted by the people that Hollywood views as more important.

That's considered a victory?

I think it's a trap.

If the new all-women Ghostbusters under performs by any metric of comparison with the original, then Hollywood will  declare it a failure and use it as an excuse to not develop women-led franchise films.

I think a victory would be the creation of a new female-driven film with franchise potential and to let it fly or flop on its own merits without the baggage of a long dead franchise whose only sequel was considered a flop by everyone involved because it only made globally what the first film made domestically.

It's not hard to come up with a female-centric high-concept movie. Back during the more sexist Golden Age of Movies they used to put out "women's pictures" with great regularity and in a wide variety of genres and styles. They made the expected romantic comedies and weepy melodramas, but they also made female-driven thrillers, mysteries, broader slapstick farces, adventure films, and even horror films.

They didn't do that because people demanded it in the name of fairness, the studios did it because it was a practical business decision. Those films made money.

I demonstrated how easy it is when I whipped up a "women's picture" premise literally on the fly during a previous discussion of this issue.

Anyone can do it, and let's come up with another one and do it for this cast:

THE POOL: This is an action comedy set in the 1960s. They play a group of women who want to be spies, but, despite their training and talent, are trapped doing secretarial work for the National Intelligence Agency because the swaggering men running the place won't admit they're able. When they uncover a plot involving traitors selling the agency out to a super villain, they go out in the field, have all kinds of Connery-era James Bond style hijinks and settle the bad guys' hash and save the world.

Easy peasy.

Why won't Hollywood do it?

Because they think it's a "risk" because it involves both originality and women, two things Hollywood fears the most.

That's what I think.

What do you think?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1213: Floptopsy - Mortdecai

Poor Johnny Depp, his box office record outside of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise is not only less than stellar, it downright sucks donkey balls, and even the Pirates movies have become so expensive, they can't make money at the box office, instead have to rely on TV airings and merchandise to turn a profit.

Depp's latest movie Mortdecai is what's lying on my floptopsy table, waiting for me to dissect it to find a cause of death. So let's fire up the metaphorical bone-saw and get going.

First, let's do a preliminary examination, that'll give you the basics.

Mortdecai was a comedic caper film, a genre you don't really see very much these days, and loosely based on the works of British comic author Kyril Bonfiglioli. In it Depp plays Charlie Mortdecai, a shady art and antiques dealer who gets involved in all sorts of mayhem over money.

Bonfiglioli, a huge fan of PG Wodehouse, created the character, and his manservant Jock Strapp, as mirror-parodies of Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. Where Wooster gets into trouble because he's always trying to do the right thing, Mortdecai gets into trouble because he's always doing the wrong thing.

Now let's see where things went wrong.

1. QUALITY. The reviews for Mortdecai were pretty dreadful, earning a Rotten Tomatoes score of 12%, ouch. Right now the audience is hungry for heroes. Superheroes, war heroes, it doesn't really matter, as long as they get out their and do the right thing.

That's not to say that the audience won't accept an anti-hero, but there's a catch when you're trying to sell an anti-hero, you have to make the movie GREAT! Especially in a comedy, you need to deliver a high laughs-per-scene count, the story must be really complex and interesting, and the character must be if not likeable, downright fascinating.

The critics told the world that Mortdecai was none of those things, and the ad campaign seemed to agree, so let's take a look at the...

2. MARKETING. Like I said, selling a caper-comedy with a shady lead is a tricky thing. It seems the Lionsgate marketing department knew that too, and decided to skip pitching the story and the humour and made the ad campaign all about…

DEPP'S MOUSTACHE!
Don't believe me?

They have a whole series of posters where they photoshopped the moustache on the different cast members. 

Now the marketing gurus who came up with that idea no doubt dragged out Willy Wonka and Jack Sparrow and said: "Look, Depp's wacky outfits and make-up mean boffo box-office, and him looking like Terry Thomas is going to have us rolling in dough!"

But there's a catch.

Both Wonka and Sparrow starred in movies aimed at kids.

Try to sell a crazy outfit, makeup, and affectation combo to an audience over 12, and you're shit out of luck. Just look at the Lone Ranger.


Then there's the hype they put on his costar Gwyneth Paltrow. Sure, Mortdecai's relationship with his long suffering wife is important to the plot, but when it comes to selling tickets Paltrow is the white Nicole Kidman. Not only is she unable to carry a movie with the general audience, she's best known for dispensing scientifically laughable advice in the most smug condescending and incredibly self-unaware way possible.


That ain't gonna put bums in seats.

3. COMPETITION. Like I said at the beginning, the audience is currently craving heroes and heroics. Which means that the movie that Hollywood didn't want to make Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, is currently having Summer Blockbuster level box-office in the middle of what is supposed to be a dead period.

That means the best you can get is a distant second, and even then you need either to bring your A-Game, or have some sort of tacky hook that might bring in people at the cineplex, like a still-good-looking Jennifer Lopez doing a statutory rape turned Fatal Attraction fantasy, but even that is only pulling in about 1/4 of Sniper's business.

That's a little too brutal for a badly marketed weak movie to survive.

I think we've found the cause of death.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1212: The Diversity Conundrum

There's a word that you can't escape from, especially if you spend any time hearing about the business behind media and show business.

That word is "diversity."

According to just about everyone there's not enough of it, especially in Hollywood, and super-especially at the Academy Awards, which is offering up its first all-Caucasian acting nomination slate since 1998. This development is considered especially shocking since Selma, a film about Martin Luther King jr. and the historic March on Selma, was expected to at least repeat, if not beat, the awards performance by last year's 12 Years A Slave, which had 9 Oscar nominations and 3 wins*.

When Selma was seemingly shut out, Hollywood was immediately declared irredeemably racist, the Academy an irredeemably racist institution, and every snub, nomination, win, or loss, is evidence of that racism. 

The truth, is probably far more complex.

Academy voting and counting procedures and statistics are kept secret, and for a reason, because they don't want producers and distributors trying to game the system even more than they already do. So we don't really know exactly why Selma was mostly shut out.

It could all boil down to a mathematical where the film, and the people involved were just 1 vote short of what it took to get a nomination in each category. Or it could all boil down to Academy voters donning white hoods and burning crosses in Beverly Hills. 

We don't know. 

Here's what we do know:

1. The film appears to be perfect Oscar bait. Stories about race, racism, civil rights, and the social-political upheavals of the 1960s really appeal to Academy voters. It should have got more nominations than it did.

2. Sadly, that obvious appeal may have made the producers and the distributor think that they didn't need to burn many calories on the Oscar Campaign. Many Hollywood insiders are saying that the campaign was badly run, chiefly with screeners arriving too late to affect the voting. Screeners are essential to getting Academy members to see your movie because they NEVER pay to see movies in theatres.

3. Many didn't like the film's negative portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson. This may have affected its votes since many Academy members not only voted for, but campaigned for Johnson back in the 1960s. 

Of course what caused the near-total-shutout will remain a mystery, but as you can see it's a little more complicated than many think, or would want you to think.

So, am I saying that Hollywood's diversity problem's a myth?

HELL NO!

Hollywood DOES have a problem with diversity. 

Is it straight up racism and sexism?

I doubt Hollywood executives and filmmakers are dripping with hatred of women and minorities. I suspect the root of Hollywood's diversity problem is that they can't achieve what I call natural diversity, and try to fake their way through it through what I call unnatural diversity.

"What is natural diversity?" you ask, furrowing your brow in a feeble attempt to understand.

Natural diversity is when the make-up people working in front of and behind the camera reflects the make-up of the population at large, and no one really gets too worked up about it.

"All right," you say, your brow still furrowed, "but what's 'unnatural diversity?'"

Unnatural diversity is basically tokenism. Empty gestures meant to make the people making the gesture feel better about themselves, and maybe get some pats on the back for their "open-mindedness."

So why can't Hollywood achieve natural diversity?

1. PRE-SOLD PROPERTIES: Right now Hollywood is obsessed with blockbusters. Big expensive movies that can make hundreds of millions at the box office, and spend the next few decades being repeatedly licensed to TV and home viewing for big profits.

But those blockbusters are mostly based on properties that were created in an age when minorities were not only a smaller part of the population, they were considered even less by filmmakers and publishers. I'm talking about decades old superheroes, super-spies, and remakes out the wazoo, designed or re-designed to appeal to kids and teens.

This leads to talk that the next version of some long-existing franchise character must be changed to be black, a woman, or a black woman. When it is done,  usually in comics, which is comparatively rare, it's usually pawned off as an "alternate universe" version of the franchise, or as a minority character temporarily filling in for the white hero. 

One case where such a racial change seemed perfectly natural was when Denzel Washington stepped in the role made famous by Edward Woodward in the movie version of The Equalizer. That's because Denzel Washington is one of the few actors in Hollywood who could pull off the character of a mature heroic bad-ass and not look ridiculous or cartoony.

Usually, race and gender swapping already existing characters cheat everyone of the chance to develop new and original female and minority characters that might be able to stand on their own two feet with audiences. Which would make them examples of unnatural diversity.

2. NARROW WORLD VIEW: The executive suites of most Hollywood studios are predominantly upper-class white and male. This isn't the product of racism, but of inbreeding.

Look at the life stories of Hollywood's top management and many of them would sound so much alike. Upper echelon suburbs, elite universities, then a job in Hollywood. That's because to get in on the ground floor of Hollywood, you need to be already heavily wired into Hollywood. That might get you the job, but if you don't have a trust fund, or wealthy parents to keep you in vittles and fashionable business attire, forget it.

That's a long way from the old days. During the Golden Age the upper management was about 100% male and about 98% Jewish. But that didn't mean that the people they hired for management jobs had to be just like them. They were mostly self-made people who were looking for smart self-starters who could make them money. One of the top men at MGM was Eddie Mannix, who ran what you would call the "plant" aspect of the studio. He made sure the stages, the equipment, the budgets and the schedules, were running. He wasn't Jewish, and he also wasn't college educated. He was a fairground bouncer that MGM's owners realized was smarter than he looked, and they recruited him for management.

Lou Wasserman, the last of the classic-style moguls, was talent spotted by mega-agency MCA when he was a high school kid in Chicago and came in to book band for his school dance and showed he was already a tough negotiator. That led to a job in the MCA mailroom, that paid crap but enough to live on, to inspire him to work his way up the ladder. He did and ended up running the whole show.

Nowadays, neither Mannix or Wasserman would be even looked at by a modern studio. They didn't go to the right schools, belonged to the right clubs and fraternities, and they sure as hell didn't have the right social and familial connections to even be considered for a spot.

Such a narrow world view can lead to believing that the next cause is better than doing anything concrete.

3. THE PURCHASE OF INDULGENCES: One of the causes of the Protestant Reformation was the practise of the the "selling of indulgences." This was a way of buying forgiveness of sins in advance by giving money to the Catholic Church.

While the Church ended the practice centuries go, the practice thrives in Hollywood in a secular form.

Basically the people in Hollywood can deny opportunities to women and minorities, violate the environment with wild abandon, and commit other politically correct heresies and blasphemies without blowback. That is as long as they vote for the correct candidates, voice support for the correct causes, donate to the correct organizations and campaigns, and make the correct  gestures, whether these gestures achieve anything concrete or not.

I'm sure many in Hollywood are looking at all the complaints about their lack of diversity and saying: "They can't be talking about me, because I bought a 'This Is What A Feminist Looks Like' t-shirt, and I told MSNBC that they were doing a great job with Al Sharpton's show, even though I've never actually seen it."

This inability to see that they're part of the problem can lead to an extreme case of...

4. BLAME IT ON THE OTHER GUY: In the old days the folks running Hollywood could get away with a lot of racist and sexist shit by putting the blame on someone else. The most common stooge was the Southern United States. Wanted a black leading man? Can't do it, blame the South. Want to discuss racism or sexism in a serious way? Can't do it, blame the South.

Nowadays the blame has shifted to the "foreign markets" and they'll say things like: "Can't have a black lead, or a woman director, the Chinese won't buy it."

But is that right about foreign markets?

Was it even right about the Old South?

That's just it, we don't really know the truth, because all we have to go on are the people who complain the loudest. The people who scream and yell, and flood an office with letters of complaint that someone they don't like is doing something they don't like on the basis of their race or gender are most likely few in number. The great silent majority probably doesn't give a flying fuck as long as they're entertained. They have lives to live and don't have time to waste harassing people on the other side of the country.

That means the outraged, vocal, and occasionally violent can usually get their way regardless of whether or not they actually represent the majority of people they claim to speak for.

All these things pile up in the collective consciousness of Hollywood, giving it a case of nuclear level cognitive dissonance. They see the complaints, but can't conceive of any real way to fix the problem, because they can't see that they're part of the problem.

That's what I think, what do you think.

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*In total 12 Years A Slave won 213 awards from various bodies out of 398 nominations, including the Oscars.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1211: Amazon's Getting Theatrical


They're setting up a new feature film production company with veteran indie producer Ted Hope as head of production, and will release the films theatrically, and then in video streaming on their Amazon Prime service four weeks later.

Now let's look at the PROS & CONS!!

PROS:

1. Ted Hope is an experienced producer renowned for his good taste in projects by critics and cinephiles the world over.

2. Despite recent losses & feuds with just about everyone they've ever meet, Amazon is a big operation with deep pockets and a wide reach.

3. The project could open up opportunities to new filmmakers.

CONS:

1. While Hope is known as an critical and awards darling his record doesn't exactly burn up the box-office. If he's going to survive as the head of production of what I'm pretty sure Amazon wants to be a mainstream studio he's going to have to find a way to translate his tastes into something that will put the maximum number of bums in seats. 


2. The reports don't say if Amazon will start their own distribution company or if they'll make an output deal with a distributor like Open Road, eOne, or Lionsgate. Either way Amazon's stomp & destroy business ethic might alienate relations with theatre owners, and their distribution partners. 

3. The odds of anyone new getting a chance via Amazon are slimmer than a haute couture model. Look at their TV pilot program that was supposed to bring new voices and ideas into the TV biz, and just about every show that gets produced is by someone with a minimum of 20 years of experience and deep connections in show business. I don't see that practice changing with their feature films.

That's what I think.

What do you think?