Monday, 7 July 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #124: All Just A Little Bit of History Repeating...

If you're like me and a regular reader of Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood, (if you're not, you should start) you probably already know that Fox is reportedly shutting down it's long running research library, sparking some hostile reactions, and some embarrassment for the folks running the studio.

Now for the ig'nant among you the studio research libraries were started way back in days of yore as a resource for the studio's employees to give their movies that soup├žon of verisimilitude. Writers could come down and research historical or scientific information for their scripts, or even come up with new ideas based on some tidbit of historical or scientific trivia, costume/production designers could study texts, designs, and some actual artifacts about fashion, architexture, furniture, or anything else they needed to know.

Every studio had one, but as time passed Hollywood's so did interest in anything historical that they couldn't sell as a "deluxe edition DVD" or sell on cable. If you wanna learn about gothic architechture, just use Google or Wikipedia. Sure entering "flying buttress" into a search engine will probably get you taken to a site where architechture is not the topic in question.

There is an old maxim that those who do not understand their history are doomed to repeat it. Hollywood actually wants to repeat its history, only they call it a "remake" or a "re-imagining."

There are folks who still use the library at Fox, and not just people working for Fox. With most of the studios having shuttered, or sold off their libraries it's one of the last bastions of research left in the industry. Hell, if I worked in Hollywood, I'd probably live there, but I'm a raging bibliophile, just ask the people I knock over in a mad frenzy at the annual used book sale, so there is a way to make it work. However, making it work, requires effort, and studios are inherently lazy creatures who always follows the path of least resistance, rather than actually working for a living.

Nikki Finke suggests using the library as a resource/shooting site for a cable show called Fox Legacy, as a way to underwrite the costs of maintaining the library. I would like to go one better. I say that all the remaining research libraries be brought together under one facility, owned by a non-profit "historical appreciation" society, and open it to scholars, students, and the occassional paying tourist, in partnership with the many universities in the Los Angeles area. The studios can make a claim to contributing to education, squeeze some tax breaks out of the government, and maybe get the thing to pay for itself.

But that requires work, and that cuts into your schmooze time at Spago's.


  1. You may be interested to know that even major aerospace corporations like Boeing has shut down most of it's libraries. Research material now can be found in a few seconds on the internet. The company can subscribe to technical articles via IEEE and AIAA websites. In cases when books are needed for research, they are ordered on line from a single library and they are mailed to the recipients. Just FYI.

    Besides, in post modern cinema, reality is the last thing you want to intrude on a good story. Ask Jerry what's his face.

  2. While the internet is a wonderful resource, and the mailing service is all well and good, but for many writers and designers, such services can be expensive, and it's just not the same as going to a place and knowing that everything you need, and then some, is there and available without having to dip into your food money.

    Internet services require that you pretty much already know what you're specifically looking for, it takes away that element of discovery when you find something unexpected but ultimately useful in a place like a library.

    Researchers are less likely to just poke their nose in a book out of simple curiosity, if they have to pay money to send for it, and then wait for it to be delivered.

    That's the magic of libraries, and losing that for the illusion of efficiency will end up costing more in the long run, in my opinion.