That, unpleasantly graphic, term is one I use to describe how the studio system works, or doesn't work, in the field of promoting executives (click here and go to #5). It basically states that senior studio executives win their positions not through merit, but through using internal corporate politics make themselves look better, not through achievement, but through making others look worse.
What brought my mind back to the subject was a piece of an article by award winning playwright/ pundit/ tv producer/ novelist/ cartoonist/ blogger/ filmmaker/ champion clog-dancer David Mamet, which was mostly about his recent political (as in government) conversion, but this blog isn't about government-type politics, it's about Hollywood-type politics. So I'll just give you the piece that fits this post the best:
[H]ow will we, mere human beings, work it all out?Do you see what I'm getting at?
I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I referred to my own—take away the director from the staged play and what do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period, and a better production.
The director, generally, does not cause strife, but his or her presence impels the actors to direct (and manufacture) claims designed to appeal to Authority—that is, to set aside the original goal (staging a play for the audience) and indulge in politics, the purpose of which may be to gain status and influence outside the ostensible goal of the endeavor. (Italics mine)
Getting ahead in the biz side of showbiz these days now has very little to do with having any actual success in showbiz. As Mamet said, they have set aside their original goal (making profitable movies) to gain status and influence by buttering up Authority (Corporate CEO, Boards of Directors) and henceforth the original endeavour (making profitable movies) suffers.
Now it's a problem that effects any large and successful industry, and it's troubled Hollywood since the dawn of the business, but it hasn't always been this bad. Back in the Golden Age of the movie business the studios were run by powerful, if not domineering, figures like Louis B. Mayer (MGM), Jack Warner (Warner Bros.), and Darryl Zanuck (20th Century Fox). Their power, prestige, and wealth was based almost entirely on the success of their respective studios. They didn't have the margin of error to play games that could damage the company, and those who did, were swiftly turfed by the studio's board of directors who militantly represented the investors.
Nowadays things are very different.
Major studios are now just small cogs in massive corporate machines. The people who run them aren't the hard-nosed businessmen who started out, sometimes literally, at street-level, and built their way up to the top. These days studios aren't run by such men, now they're usually the same Ivy League country club crowd that used to look down at the movie business, and in a way still does.
Because they don't see the movie business as a way to make movies.
They see the movie business as a way to sell sneakers, cheeseburgers, designer jeans, and toys.
They also see the vagueness of international film-financing as an excellent way to hide money from the tax-man and annoyed investors.
And finally, it's a way to make any young executive feel more glamorous, powerful and important than he actually is.
Making movies has become the last thing on the studio's list of priorities.
So with an entire industry looking at everything but the actual purpose of the industry, you get a lot of politicking, backstabbing, and manipulation to both avoid getting fired, and to keep getting promoted. It's become an industry where a man can rise to the top of his company, just for having the good timing of getting promoted before his failures (like losing over $1,000,000,000 in one year) can catch up with him.
That's why I made such a big deal over the promotions of Doug Belgrad and Matt Tolmach at Sony/Columbia. I made it sound like a Sign of Armageddon, because in Hollywood, making it on merit and box-office success alone is almost unheard of.
Garson Kanin said something to the effect of: "The problem with Hollywood as an art is that it's a business, and the problem with it as a business is that it's an art."
It doesn't have to be though.
We just need to start running the business like a real business, which is making and selling art.
That's all you really need to know, and if you keep your eye on the prize, you just might end up running the #1 studio in Hollywood.
That's my 2 cents.