Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #7: The 12 Commandments

A few years ago I wrote an article for Film Threat's website about how to run a Hollywood movie studio. I composed 12 simple rules, or commandments that I believe every movie mogul and wannabe movie mogul should read, memorize, and take as the principle guide to their lives.


Because nothing bugs me more than people who don't do their jobs right.

Why should we pay attention to your advice, and do you have any experience in studio management?

I don't have any experience at all in running a movie studio. But I do have commons sense, something that appears to be missing in the movie business.

1- Don't forget the DAMN AUDIENCE! Hollywood is a very insular, nay, incestuous place that is isolated from the average citizen of the planet Earth. There is also a bottomless chum bucket of hype that creates an atmosphere in Hollywood that if anyone else's opinion mattered they'd already be on the A-List. Well, that's a recipe for fiscal and creative suicide. The audience is not always right, and it may not know much about art, or what shoes are in season, but they do know what they like. They like stories, preferably well told stories, that entertain them, occasionally challenge them, but not insult them. If you want proof, you can look at the Box Office performance of certain 'political' movies.

2- Don’t believe your every brain-fart is a sign of genius. Yes, you are the studio’s boss, but remember that you probably got the job because you were in the same college fraternity as the Chairman of the Board’s nephew, not because you’re the second coming of Irving Thalberg. Nobody’s perfect and that’s why you must follow these rules.

3- Don’t hire toadies. The classic corporate ‘Yes Man’ may make your ego feel good, but you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Always hire people that are as smart or smarter than you are. I know most execs would advise against it, but their own careers are usually hanging by a thread because their staff couldn’t find their own asses with a bloodhound and a map. Surrounding yourself with smart people can only make you look smarter.

4- Have someone willing to tell you when you’re wrong. During the mythical days of the Roman Empire, there was always an adviser next to Caesar reminding him that “All fame is fleeting.” The old fellow was saying not to believe your own hype. Every Boss needs a Devil’s Advocate. Someone you trust and respect who you can discuss ideas with in private. Then he or she can rationally find any faults in your case. Trust me, it’s better to have one trusted person pick your ideas apart than the press, ticket-buyers and shareholders. Then with all your dumb ideas weeded out in privacy, the stuff you do come out with will seem like pure gold.

5- Never let the marketing people dictate how your studio’s movies should be made or what they should be about. The biggest problem with filmmaking is that everybody who doesn’t make films thinks they can do it better. There’s nobody worse than marketing departments and ad agencies for meddling with films. It is your job to remind them that their job is to sell a finished product, not make the product themselves. Let them take over your studio an you’ll pump out nothing but super-bland turkeys that follow trends that are already deader than Elvis.

6- Always be on good terms with the talent you're dealing with. I know that sounds impossible since the words egocentric, neurotic, and spoiled are often used to describe the talented. However, you will soon realize that a little diplomacy goes a long way. Never try to threaten or bully them because the old days of ruining someone’s career by branding them ‘difficult’ have disappeared in this celebrity-worshipping age. That means you don’t meddle in things you know nothing about for the sole reason of flexing your own ego. There are reasons why some people work in a soundstage while others work in an office. Hire people who can do the job and then let them do their job. If you can’t trust them to do it right, then don’t hire them in the first place.

7- Don’t go solely on hype when you’re casting. The whole marketing theory of ‘Name Recognition’ is a myth. Just because the public will ogle a star’s photo-spread in PEOPLE doesn’t mean that same star will put bums in theatre seats where it counts. Look at how right they are for the part as well as their real box-office performance and cast them accordingly.

8- Respect the geek. When adapting a novel, comic book, or TV franchise for the big screen, a little fiddling can be forgiven. However, if you fiddle to where it no longer resembles the original source material just to score more product placements then you will lose the geeks. The geeks are the super-fans who line up on opening weekend to see their favorite fictional heroes. However, if they’re turned off by your ‘re-imagining’ then you can forget the positive word of mouth, you can forget the repeated viewings, you can forget the DVD sales & rentals, and you can forget your profit margin. Thanks to the Internet the geek can make or break a blockbuster at the speed of light.

9- Don’t be afraid to follow your gut and take a chance. However, that doesn’t mean you should forget rules #1-#4.

10- Never allow filming to begin before the script is completed. That’s a recipe for disaster. At least have a completed first draft ready before you start rolling out the cameras. Rewrites are inevitable, and often necessary, but the production phase is not the right time to grind out a first draft.

11- You can’t save a bad script by throwing money at it. You’re in the business of making money by telling stories. Make sure that the story you’re starting with is the best one you can get.

12- Treat your expense account as a convenient business tool, not a teat to sucked dry. If you start acting like your expense account is a goodie bag it will become your obsession and your mind will not be on your job, which is making movies not charging your daughter’s sweet sixteen party to the company.

13- Don’t be in it just for the money and the power. If you have a love for your job and the medium, it will show in your work and in the performance of your company. If you’re just in it for the cash and the casting couch, then you’re going to crash and burn.

I hope this advice somehow finds it's way to a Hollywood executive and he uses it to save the entire industry. All I ask is 10% of the gross.

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