Friday, 9 November 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #3: Ins & Outs

The current writer's strike has made me think a bit about how Hollywood does business. Last time I talked about contempt, and how it's become integral to Hollywood's attitudes, and today I'm going to talk about another key ingredient: Isolation.

Hollywood folk aren't like you and me, they have a lot more money and a lot less sense. And the only people they encounter are either also in Hollywood (physically, economically &/or mentally) or want to be in Hollywood.

The average Hollywood denizen doesn't know much about the average person outside of its narrow little circle. In fact, they Hollywood folks don't even want to know anything about the outside world, because they believe that if you were worthy of their attention, you'd be one of them already.

This has created a strange culture in Hollywood that resembles high school on steroids and too much money.

A friend of mine brought this story to my attention that I think illustrates the point.

It's the story of director Peter Jackson, and studio boss Robert 'Bob' Shaye.

Director Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those movies literally made billions of dollars for New Line cinema, and held the promise of other profitable projects for the studio.

Then New Line founder and CEO Bob Shaye shagged the pooch.

Or to be more specific, he tried screw director Peter Jackson out of his rightful share of the home video profits.

This led Jackson to file a massive lawsuit, Shaye to start name-calling, destroyed the developing adaptation of The Hobbit, and poisoned relations with Jackson and the audience.

So why did Shaye do it?

Was it greed?


Was it stupidity?

In a way.

Was it contempt?

Yep. But it's a contempt based in isolationism.

You see, despite his position as a top-money earner, Jackson lived in worked in New Zealand. He did not belong to the 'in crowd' in the Malibu/Beverly Hills/Hollywood Axis and had no interest in becoming a member at any time.

Peter Jackson had become the equivalent of the science geek. The captain of the football team will have the geek do his homework to get an A+ in Algebra, but will still stick the geek's head in the washroom toilet and give him a swirly.

Sure, the science geek will stop doing his homework and the jock will flunk Algebra and severely mortgage his future, but at least he got the momentary giddy thrill of showing everyone who was the big man on campus.

And seeing the New Line is one the razor's edge financially, you can figure out who was the figurative jock in that story.

With Jackson out, Shaye, in his infinite wisdom, decided to top Jackson at his own game.

He was going to make a film that was similar in spirit to the LOTR trilogy, but will be uniquely Shaye's.

That film was The Last Mimzy.

Yep that's one sucky title. Sort of like that allegorical jock trying to do his own chemistry experiment, only to have it blow up in his face.

You see LOTR was a grand epic adventure with lots of special FX, and since Shaye, being a Hollywood person, thought that was it and filled The Last Mimzy with that.

Shaye couldn't see what lay beneath the LOTR trilogy.

Tolkien wrote the novels to promote Christian ideals and themes without directly mentioning Christianity. And though I have no idea of what Peter Jackson's personal beliefs are, he didn't shy away from, or edit out those ideals and themes out of the film version.

Those themes resonated on an emotional level with the general public in a big way. This led to the repeated viewings, the white hot DVD sales, and merchandising out the wazoo.

Shaye's film did have an element of spirituality, but it was strictly of a New Age California blend that didn't resonate with anyone whose spiritual adviser didn't live in Malibu. Also many were annoyed by some tacked on political statements, that didn't particularly fit what was supposed to be a family film.

The Last Mimzy tanked at the box office.

Did Shaye see the film's failure as a sign that he had lost his connection with the general audience?


He called the audience 'stupid.' If they were truly 'with it' like he was, they would have made Mimzy #1.

And it's obvious that Shaye still hasn't learned his lesson.

His next project is producing The Golden Compass. It's based on a series of children's books designed to be the atheist's answer to LOTR and the successful Narnia books and film.

Already the film is tracking poorly with preview audiences and most analysts expect it to lose a fortune. For some reason being told that their deeply held faith is stupid and/or evil just isn't entertaining for the average moviegoer, even the ones that aren't particularly religious.

Will Shaye learn his lesson then?

Probably not.

Because Hollywood is High School, and no one wants to tell the captain of the football team that he's flunking out because he won't do his homework and actually learn something.

That will get you a swirly and a swift booting out of the 'in crowd.'

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