Friday, 28 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #18: Quo Vadis?

I've done more than my share of ranting and raving about what's wrong with Hollywood but for a change I'd like to talk about things Hollywood could do to stop its death spiral.

So here is my plan.


Millions of dollars are spent each year in Hollywood to maintain the most inefficient and costly bureaucracy in human history. And within this bureaucracy legions of lawyers, accountants, and MBAs practice the sort of advancement through turf wars and personal destruction not seen since the days of the old Soviet Politburo.

To simplify studios must:

a) Realize that their business is not creative accounting and tax shelter investments but the telling and selling of stories to entertain a mass audience.

b) Trim the executive fat. The business office of the average film studio can be reduced by about 2/3s.

c) Base executive salaries and bonuses on performance, not on internal office politics and greed.

d) Divide the posts of Chairman and CEO between two different people. The Chairman and the Board are to represent the interests of the shareholders. Any executives on the board must abstain from all votes pertaining to salaries and compensation. Having one man occupying both posts leads to too much power in too little hands and lead to ego trumping common sense.

e) Stop playing silly buggers with the accounting. Once studios start showing that offering net profit participation is not a form of cheating creators they will see that up-front salary demands, and gross participation demands will go down. This will reduce costs and make films cheaper and more profitable. Transparency is key.


Every year the cost of the means of production goes down while the actual costs of making films skyrocket beyond the rates of inflation. This reduces not only profitability, but creativity. Huge amounts of money are being spent to solve problems that they filmmakers used to solve using their imaginations. Audiences also feel cheated, hearing about film's with massive budgets and not seeing that money on the screen.

To cut costs studios must:

a) Realize that the star system is dead. It died of exposure on the slopes of our 24/7 "celebrity" tabloid media industry. Stars used to be glamorous, mysterious figures of aspiration. Anyone who aspires to be like most modern celebrities, with their wretched pitiful lives, plagued by constant scandal, addiction, botched plastic surgeries, all under the unblinking eye of the paparazzi hordes needs major brain surgery.

b) Stop paying massive salaries and gross point deals to stars who can't deliver audiences. I have nothing against actors being well paid, but studios should draw the line at salaries that could have covered the film's entire budget a mere 5 years ago, especially if that actor couldn't sell tickets to the Second Coming.

c) Stop the whole practice of 'packaging.' Tell agents that no 'star' is worth doubling if not trebling the budget of any film to pad the agent's commission by hiring all of his other clients at higher than deserved rates, and that they can always find someone else. It'll sting at first, and a few of the 'big player' agencies may even collapse, but the agents and agencies willing and able to actually work for their clients will survive, and it will be better for everyone involved.

d) Each studio needs a corps of elite production managers (or line producers) who answer directly to the studio and whose job is to keep costs in line. I'm not saying that these production managers should be rigid martinets, but they should promote the use of creativity and imagination over money to get films made.

e) Look to new technology as a means to cut costs, not create new ones.


Despite a steady growth in population, viewers numbers for movies and TV are in decline. Part of this is the wealth of options people have for entertainment, including video games and the internet, but a big part of it is dissatisfaction with the material being produced by Hollywood.

To reconnect they must:

a) Realize that the audience is not stupid. The audience, especially teenagers, may enjoy big dumb spectacles, and broad farcical comedies, but they do have the capacity to enjoy more intelligent and adult (not that kind of adult) fare, if it can connect to them on an emotional level.

b) Realize that the phrase "challenging" is often code for "insulting." The recent failure of films portraying America, and especially American Christians as villains shows that the audience will not pay to be insulted. They can accept fare that is really challenging, that presents an artist's point of view in a way that is intelligent and thought provoking, but that seems to be a lost art because the filmmakers don't really believe in their stands, but only think that they should believe them, because it's what's fashionable in Hollywood.

If the film-maker's really believed what they were saying they wouldn't be afraid to present fully developed characters engaged in intelligent, and fully developed discussions of controversial issues. Audiences may not agree with an artist's point of view, but they will pay to see that view expressed if it's done in an intellectually honest manner.

c) Studio executives must stop looking down on people. Yes, studio execs are rich and powerful people, but they are just people, and once they realize that, and that the opinions of people who aren't part of that Malibu- Beverly Hills- Los Angeles Axis do matter they may have a chance to reconnect to the audience.

Let me know what you think.

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