Monday, 15 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1010: You Gotta Question, I Gotta Answer!

A reader has a question and I have the ability to pretend I have the answer...

Robert the Wise asked... Why do they only hire the stupidest people to run entertainment companies?

That's a bit of a loaded question, or at least it's asked in a rather loaded way, but it does raise the issue of hiring at the major studios and the television networks, the social milieu of these executives and how it creates the appearance that only the stupidest people get to the top in many major media companies.

This appearance owes itself to three major factors:




Now let's dive into the details.


There's no way you can learn to run a major media company in a classroom and be ready to leap into the corner office. A certain level of apprenticeship is required to learn the ins and outs of management and administration of a business that isn't like many other businesses.

In the old days bright youngsters with hustle were talent spotted by more senior people and given entry level jobs usually in the mail-room. In some cases, especially with the talent agencies, college was preferred, but not essential. If these youngsters showed, drive, ambition, and street-smarts they earned their way to becoming assistants, then junior executives, and, when the time came to stab their mentors in the back, senior executives.

This system brought the world talented moguls as diverse as Universal's Lew Wasserman and David Geffen.

That began to change in the 1960s and 1970s and I blame country clubs.

Back in the golden age Hollywood moguls weren't exactly welcome in the rich WASP elite enclaves otherwise known as country clubs. This was mostly due to antisemitism, but also due to what the elite considered the unseemliness of the entertainment business.

However, during the blockbuster era things began to change. Hollywood became huge business, and way too big for even the most elitist antisemitic snobs to ignore doing business with. So the moguls began to join the country clubs.

Then the moguls began to recruit from the country clubs.

Not the valet parker or the caddy who showed some savvy and moxie to start in the mailroom. No, they started hiring the children of people they played golf with. They also created two career tracks and only led to the top.

On track was where everything is based solely upon merit, but this one led only to middle management, and barring a miracle, no further. The other track which leads straight to the top, is dictated by politics.

Now when it comes to politics I'm not talking about which party they vote for, I'm going by a bastardized version of a definition David Mamet gave which is "all the nonsense that has nothing to do with accomplishing the task at hand."

To get on this track you have to have gone to the right Ivy League school, preferably Harvard, and have someone in your family/friends who is either a person of authority in Hollywood, or connected to a person of authority in Hollywood.

That can get you an assistant's position in Hollywood, naturally these assistant jobs pay less than shit for the hours they're expected to work and the image they are expected to present. This means that those who stay in the assistant position long enough to advance can only do it if they have some other means of support, like having rich parents or a spouse with a well paying job.

If you're really, really lucky, you can get the right assistant's job with the right person. The right person is someone who has the ear of those who make decisions, and the internal political clout to be appeased by giving an assistant that person likes a job that can help expand that person's internal political clout.

You can work really hard and show real talent, but if your immediate superior doesn't have the clout, you're probably shit out of luck when it comes to reaching the top without a miracle, and will probably have to settle for middle management at best.


Having a position of serious power in Hollywood is amazing.

You're paid really good salaries, have tons of benefits, live in barely imaginable and everyone is kissing your ass, including many of the most famous people in the world.

That can have an intoxicating effect on even the best of us. In this environment you can start to think that you are somehow above things like making mistakes.

Suddenly you start making decisions as you're a 17th century French absolute monarch and not the employee of a corporation whose mission is to make movies and/or television that make money for the corporation's shareholders by winning audiences.

Since no one wants to risk their jobs by telling you that you're making a mistake, or even ask questions, the executive can enter a spiral of bad decisions, which is made even worse by the position's innate...


When you're in an elite position in Hollywood the world of Hollywood will soon become all you know. You socialize with the people you work with, you take a vacation, it's usually to the same spots as the people you work with. You read the same books, or at least get the gist of the same books from your assistants, you get your news from the same sources, and you watch the same shows, or at least claim to watch the same shows.

This leads to a strange disconnect and a warping of priorities. Decisions are made not on the basis of winning an audience, but on appealing to your immediate social circle. The problem is that this social circle is pretty well cut off completely from the outside world.

So when you see a studio boss making seemingly inane decisions they're not doing it because they were hired for their stupidity. They're making those bad decisions because their career was based more on internal politics over merit, they're awash in glamour that makes them believe that they're infallible, and that those stupid decisions are the right ones, because they seem right in the tiny world that they live in.

If any of you readers have anymore questions, then leave them in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Blast Hardcheese17/4/13 1:34 pm

    On a cheerier note, on occasion the planets align and the right people are in charge. As an existence proof, look at the latest 'Man of Steel' trailer. First time in a very long time I've actually teared up watching a stupid ad. The movie may stink on ice, but I'd bet against it at this point.