When I look back on the years I have worked in the film and
television business, since beginning in 1980, there have been many
obvious changes. Most of those are technological ones and those
technological developments have profoundly altered the soul and the
math of the business. Cable TV and then satellite, VHS and then DVD
and then DVR, and now MP3. Three networks dominating everything and then
those three networks dominating nothing. HBO producing original
broadcasting that competed with the Big Three for audience share. David
Chase giving everyone a reason to stay home on Sunday to watch TV.
Who'd a thought?
In the movie business, among the biggest changes is the
background, personality and capabilities of your average head of the
studio, head of production and their marketing departments. I recall,
through the admittedly distorted prism of time, that Mike Medavoy was
the kind of old school studio boss who looked at his release schedule
and decided to burn one on "the side of the angels." He had a movie and
a filmmaker that he truly believed in and, inside of a slate of 20 or
15 or even 12 movies, Medavoy made one with little regard for the box
office prognosis. He wanted to make a good film and believed that
audiences would follow the filmmaker, and him, to the theatre.
There are no Mike Medavoys running the studios today. There
are no Fred Silvermans running the networks, either, Silverman being the
television-savant-as-executive, a breed that seems to have all but
vanished, save for Garth Ancier, who apprenticed under Silverman. The
studios are run by men and women who know very little, if anything,
how to make a good film. That is why so many studio films are so
shamefully (or shamelessly) bad. These are men and women who simply do
not have the recipe, although each fancies himself as a modern day
Cohn, Warner or Zanuck. From what I read of Hollywood history, Zanuck
had more talent for how to fit the disparate elements of filmmaking
together in one finger than most of today's crowd has in their whole
production department. Make no mistake, there are extraordinarily
talented and capable people
at the studios and networks. Ron Meyer, once the greatest talent agent
of them all (he was
mine, and I mean every word of that) and Brad Grey are two smart men
who have had
remarkable careers and yet run major studios that answer to demanding
The writers' strike is upon us because the writers want more
of the back end and the
studios claim they don't have it. If the studios don't have it, it's
more their own fault than
anyone else's. We are now in the fully realized age of the modern
with lawyers and accountants calling nearly all of the shots. Some say
the old studio system was bad.
However they look more and more like the Medicis compared to what
exists today. Even in
independent film, so much of the product seems tired. (If I see one
more Indie Icon Guy and Indie Icon Gal
put one of their parents into a nursing home, while the lighting is
dialed down real low to hide
the cheap set design, I might cry.)
Many contributors disparaged the striking WGA on this site. I
was dismayed by this. Do you
honestly believe that most writers are ultimately responsible for what
goes on screen, even if their name is on it?
That's like saying a plumber is responsible for your taste in fixtures.
Sometimes a writer is like a plumber: he installs
what he is paid to install. Most writers I know have a great script in
one file and a commercial one in the other.
They have BILLY BUDD and PORKYS all in the same computer. Don't ever
judge a writer by any screenplay that gets made.
Unless you're saying something admiring about a real giant, with real
power, from another time. Like Welles or
Mankiewicz or Robert Towne.
Everyone in the film industry seems to be searching for the
risk-free project. There is no such project.
Movie-making, music, theatre and TV, even publishing...all creative
enterprises that struggle to discern
the taste of a mass audience are in a risky business. We need more
risk-takers to make movies and produce TV.
We need more Mike Medavoys. And let's hope the strike ends soon.
Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.