Thursday, 20 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #16: Sympathy for the Devil's Advocate

Hat tip to Nikki Finke who posted this story about how the Alliance of Motion Picture & TV Producers (AMPTP) declined participating in hearings held by the Los Angeles City Council about the economic impact of the Writer's Strike on the LA economy.

Instead the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) their chief lobbying body submitted a statement into the record, but refused to testify or answer any questions.

Now before Variety's Peter Bart accuses me of having "drunk the Kool-Aid" and becoming a shill for the sinister "organizers" of the WGA, (as if he would read this blog) I will say that the AMPTP could
argue, that since the MPAA was best equipped to handle the hearing because it represents the same people and is designed for and experienced in dealing with municipal, state and federal governments.

But, and it's a big but...

The MPAA didn't handle the hearing. It merely had a rep submit a statement into the record.

Hearings are about testimony. Testimony is about people presenting their case before the governing body, God, and the American public.

Submitting a dry statement conceived by public relations firms that lack the sense to put a lock on the .com address for their website is not testimony, and it is not going to win any friends or influence people.

At least not anyone who doesn't live in Beverly Hills or Malibu.

It amazes that the people who run an industry based upon image can't see the image that they're creating for themselves.

The only way they could have handled that meeting any worse was if AMPTP honcho Nick Counter showed up dressed like Snidely Whiplash and declaring, whilst twirling his waxed mustaches, that once they crushed the writers they were going to get the widows and orphans next.

They could have let the MPAA handle the hearing, but like I said, they didn't try to handle it.

And that's a sign of incredible weakness and contempt, the chief poison in the apple of Hollywood.

Weakness because the moguls and their spin doctors lacked the imagination and will to handle it. Public hearings are all about making a case, and if you don't have a case other than your own contempt and greed, you need more spin than a top balanced on a centrifuge.

But the AMPTP/MPAA didn't even
try to spin their way through the hearings.

It can't be because they are concerned about what people think of them. The majority of Americans think they're jerks. Spinning like one wouldn't have dug that hole any deeper. In fact, there's a slim chance it might even help, but that requires imagination, intelligence, hard work, and most of all, a sense of respect for your opposition and the general public.

But they don't have that. Instead they have contempt.

What else other than contempt would compel the moguls, people in the business of telling and selling stories, to believe that they don't need stories as long as they have equity investment from Dubai and European Union tax shelters
to keep them afloat.

What they don't seem to realize is that those investments and shelters are worthless without stories to tell and sell, that this strike, which could spread to include actors and directors, could cripple, if not destroy, the industry, and that in this destruction they are casting themselves as the villain.

And pretty lousy villains as it is.

One of the fundamental truths about good storytelling is that the villain, no matter how evil their deeds, must believe that what he/she does is right, even if it's only for the fulfillment of their own wants and desires.

The AMPTP is acting like the villain, but not
a modern sophisticated well rounded villain, with depth, intelligence, and the ability to at least make a case for their villainy, but a old fashioned cartoon villain who does villainous things just because they think it's what they should do with no logical rationale behind it.

It's also a tactical error. No tactician would suggest not trying to make a case for being right, no matter how wretched, without some sort of grievous head injury. Even if your arguments are all wrong and based on a foundation of lies and greed, at least you tried, and that might actually convince some people. (It happens in politics all the time)

And it's not an impossible rhetorical exercise. In fact, it's a centuries old tradition.

In the old days, when the Vatican was deciding on the canonization of a saint, no matter how holy and pure the person in question was, there was a man appointed to be The Devil's Advocate. It was his job to argue against sainthood, and to compose believable and intelligent arguments for that argument, even if the person personally didn't believe any of it.

And even though they may have disagreed with the presentation they were making, they were intellectually honest enough to admit that the argument was necessary, if not to themselves, but to the search for truth.

Now the AMPTP/MPAA have apparently given up on playing their own Devil's Advocate and the only explanation for not even trying is that they hold anyone who is not a fellow mogul in too much contempt to even lie to their faces about the issues at hand.

People can understand being greedy, and they can understand spinning, and even lying, but they don't like being looked on as unworthy of being included in the discussion.

Of course if Hollywood's moguls weren't crippled
with contempt their industry would be in a lot better financial shape than it is now.

That's why I'm continuing my ongoing campaign to replace Robert Shaye as head of New Line Pictures.

I even have a catchy poster, and image is everything you know...


  1. I think both sides are being total dumbasses in this strike and will in turn cripple and kill Hollywood as we know it.

    Unlike the last strike their prime Demographic, Males from age 18-35 have another form of entertainment called video games. Which in many ways are a polar opposite of that hollywood has become.

    Many of these games, actually engage and entertain the user, do not insult their intelligence. As many of the newer games actually require some sort of problem solving skills to even complete. Many of them are very pro-military and patriotic such as the Cal of Duty and Medal of Honor series.

    With the growing list of new homegrown content that can be found on Youtube and internet sites, the old guard of Hollywood is fast heading toward irrevelancy.

  2. Agreed GTBurns.

    But the WSJ has scooped Nikki Finke again. JUST as I predicted, the AMPTP is dealing with foreign writers. Foreign-sourced productions with foreign writers are being picked up for the Fall TV schedule, and could be moved up to next Spring.

    Fact is, for the declining audiences and revenues for today's TV networks AND movies, the writers, ACTORS, and PRODUCERS are quite replaceable in a global economy.


    Furious D nailed it with Butts in Seats -- no actors today put them there.

    If say, Anthony LaPaglia, and Poppy Montgomery, and Hugh Laurie, and Lucy Lawless, and new find ("Chuck") Yvonne Strahowski can populate TV screens now as Americans in American productions, the next logical step is to use ...

    CHEAPER Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, and UK WRITERS, ACTORS, and DIRECTORS to make the low-audience movies and tv shows that we have now.

    Look, back in 1968 when the population was 203 million, 60 million people watched Beverly Hillbillies. SIXTY MILLION PEOPLE. True, in the days of only 3 networks. But in a nation of 303 million people today, that's a 1/3rd increase, we have audience numbers topping out at 20 million for scripted shows and 25 million for American Idol.

    All things being equal, the total "potential" TV audience for a hit show should be 90 million (1/3rd increase over 1968). Instead it's 22-25% of that potential.

    Now, you can argue that audience fragmentation in the age of cable audience would cut a potential audience in say, half. But heck 75% or more? Three quarters? I don't buy it.

    It's crappy, elitist shows that pander to the creators and insiders instead of the audience (because of compensation) that is the problem.

    Hollywood won't tackle the fundamental problem: creative people don't get the continuing revenue stream so they just demand huge paydays and don't share risks and produce elitist crap.

    So instead this strike is Exhibit A for outsourcing production from Hollywood to global, mobile sources of stories and entertainment. I expect that the internet will allow gag writers to work anonymously for the Late Night guys, and that shows won't be any worse than stuff done by say, Bruce Vilanche.

    Consider TV's biggest critically acclaimed shows, Sopranos and Six Feet Under. Neither pulled in more than 4 million a week, and only 33% of TV households actually found HBO or Showtime worthy of purchase, even though nearly 100% were eligible.