Monday, 20 October 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1188: Corporations, & Creativity...

George Lucas has spoken.

He has declared that the biggest problem in Hollywood are the studios, and that's because they're corporations, and corporations are incapable of dealing with anything involving creativity and the imagination.

He's right, in a way, but he's also wrong.

The foundation of his premise is that corporations are inhuman or alien creatures that exist on a plane that has no human sensibilities.

While it may seem to be that way, it's actually a false premise.

There was a politician who was much maligned for saying "corporations are people" and accused of claiming that corporations were somehow living and sentient beings on their own and somehow deserving of human rights. The favourite of the statement's critics was this nugget which no doubt would make Mort Sahl weep with joy: "I'll believe corporations are people when one gets the death penalty." 

Actually, corporations have a death penalty, and its dished out with more regularity than the real death penalty in Texas, it's called "bankruptcy," but that's another story.

What the critics and wits were missing was that corporations are not sentient sociopathic creatures, they are in fact people, lots of people. They are lots of people united for a common cause, and that's making money.

Corporations are made up of three kinds of people:

SHAREHOLDERS: These are the people who use their money to invest in the creations and maintenance of a corporation. The popular image of a shareholder is of the cigar chomping Wall Street Fat Cat, but they are in fact the minority. The bulk of shares being bought and sold are through what are called "institutional investors" and the biggest of these are the pension funds. That means your grandpa and grandma are shareholders in a way through their pensions. Representatives of the major shareholders sit on the Board of Directors, and it's their job to oversee the management and direction of the corporation in question, and all shareholders get a vote on major issues, like the board's makeup at the corporation's Annual General Meeting.

MANAGEMENT: The job of management is to maximize value for their shareholders in exchange for salaries and bonuses that are supposed to reflect their success. They are also supposed to answer to the Board of Directors.

EMPLOYEES: Employees are the folks hired to do specific jobs in exchange for a regular pay check and benefits.

So, now that we understand that corporations are just groups of people we can now take that step that Lucas fails to do, and admit that the biggest problem with corporations is that the corporation is made up of people.

You see people are fallible, and quite a few are complete fuck-ups, they have their own petty agendas that involve their own baser instincts, and those instincts often overwhelm their duty to their profession.

The early moguls couldn't let their baser instincts overwhelm their duty to their company and shareholders because it could cost them everything they had built. When they found a filmmaker who could make the sort of films that put bums in seats they would give them a certain amount of trust, but would only go so far.

When Lucas broke through in the early 1970s the old school moguls who built Hollywood were gone. In their place was a new generation of executives who gave Lucas' generation of "Movie Brats" a lot of creative leeway because those executives had something that the original moguls lacked for the most part:


Remember, from the 1950s to the early 1970s the major studios were skirting bankruptcy. 20th Century Fox even had to close its doors for a while because it couldn't make payroll. They needed something, anything, that could reconnect them to the audience and were more than willing to write a blank cheque to upstarts like Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg who had the potential to make the hits they so desperately needed.

Ironically, the freedom that Lucas' generation enjoyed was both a blessing and a curse. They revived the studios, and made them attractive takeover targets by the then blossoming media conglomerates. At around the same time about 70% of the once golden Movie Brats crashed and burned,  with indulgent, expensive flops, and in the case of Michael Cimino  an honest to goodness studio killer called Heaven's Gate.

This caused a massive paradigm shift (JARGON ALERT) in the way the studios operated. Instead of being independent or semi-independent entities the studios became mere cogs in increasingly massive media and entertainment conglomerates. The executives running the studios went from people whose careers depended entirely upon the success or failure of the studio, to being more or less bureaucrats who could coast by as long as they made it look like they were doing what is perceived by the so-called "experts" as the "safe thing" whether it's really safe or not.

That means burying everything under market research, green lighting remakes, reboots, and reboots of remakes, and making the finance end an incomprehensible miasma of Harvard Business School  approved shenanigans that would make Snidely Whiplash do a double take.

All those things can insulate even the most incompetent executive, who knows nothing about storytelling, and story-selling, from being fired at least until they can wrangle a new job at another company before the Board starts paying attention to what's happening and they get canned. And even if they do get canned, they usually have a golden or even platinum parachute to give them a soft landing.

What's lost amid all this chaos?


They lost their grip on the simple fact that their job is to make money by bringing the creations of artists to the wider audience.

Is it because some cold impersonal corporate machine is out to destroy creativity?

No, it's because corporations are merely reflections of the people who run them. Incompetent management and a Board of Directors that's either inattentive, or has a conflict of interest with the management is a bad combination.

But it's still a combination of people. People letting their baser instincts and wants overwhelm their duty to their profession.

What's the solution?

Nationalization is often touted as a cure all for badly run, or just plain bad, corporations, but that never works. It usually just institutionalizes everything wrong about those companies by making it impossible to fire the incompetent, or respond to needs of the artist or the audience outside of the top echelon of the bureaucracy's social circle.

But all is not lost, and the solution is very simple:


By giving me absolute power over life and death in all media, I promise that a reign that offers just the right mix of creative freedom, fiscal common sense, and horrendous brutality.

I won't even take a salary, just a $200 million up front retainer, and after that a commission of 5% of the profits I make for the shareholders. For less than the cost of a blockbuster budget Hollywood could have the enlightened despotism they need.

Do I have your vote?

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