The LA Times recently published a piece that pronounced the recent rash of Hollywood Executives to be shown the door the best slasher story in years. The LA Times of course left out the second best slasher story, that being all of the slashing that went on at the LA Times, but that would be good reporting and then I wouldn’t be quoting the Times.
So what’s wrong in Hollywood? Why are so many top executives at major studios being Terminatored?
IT’S THE PRODUCT STUPID!!!
That’s right if you make bad product, it doesn’t make money, and then you get fired. Pretty simple, but not really…Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, so let’s start at the beginning and see if we can’t gain some substantive understanding of the problems facing Hollywood—not just the “DVD sells are down” excuse, but the reality of the difficulty of making dreams come to life.
The complexity of succeeding in the motion picture industry is really more a derivative of a left-brain right-brain conflict. Meaning that there is creative art and the business of creative art. The highest level of success that one can achieve in the motion picture / television industry comes from the optimum balance of these two factors – and yes there is an optimum balance and it can be achieved. The job of achieving this balance falls to a Studio Head.
Think about this task for a moment…A Studio Head has a person on the business side that wants to spend as little money as possible and he has a person on the creative side that will spend as much money as possible to achieve a creative vision – this is the best case scenario. The job of managing this endless conflict is a sign of a healthy studio. And somewhere the Studio Head should have a go to person, a tiebreaker, a person that pulls the trigger and ultimately says yes or no—all things considered.
All things considered is where much of the trouble of the last ten years has come from—ALL THINGS ARE NOT BEING CONSIDERED. To make a good movie there must be a good script. The industry knows this, but often ignores this, choosing projects based on pre packaged star power or financing instead. The buck stops with the head of the studio, but it begins in development. And the executives that are paying the price for bad results as of late are really paying the price for inadequate development of product. And to make this point crystal clear my novel “Stan Lerner’s Criminal” won the 2008 Hollywood Book Festival, I’ve mentioned this in a few blogs, but what I didn’t mention is that in over a year since this win not a single development executive in Hollywood contacted my manager or myself—true story. Ten thousand books, one winner, no call, bad for everyone.
Studios provide an incredible environment for business and creative process behind well-guarded walls, but since the Golden Age of Hollywood these walls have grown too tall too impenetrable for talent. The head of a studio is no longer just protected from the outside world, he or she, is a prisoner of a place and a system. And make no mistake, the system has a protocol, however it is not a protocol that has been written and subjected to analysis by the great minds of business. Rather it is a protocol unwritten by those seeking to carve out fiefdoms and advance their own personal interests over that of the studio—again it is the head of the studio that pays for this. Development must be an open process; a studio should be in the business of looking for scripts, all of the time—everywhere. There is no agency that has the exclusive on great writers and there are many great writers at no agency at all.
If inadequate development is the beginning of the story, lack of a vision / strategy is the middle. Studios used to set trends, today they look for one to follow—this does not work. If your neighbor makes a horror movie and it does well this does not mean you should make a horror movie. Because if you do, it might not do well. A vision in the motion picture business is about a yearly slate of movies. A good slate is a balanced slate, because the public’s appetite is for a variety of types of movies. Every studio vision should be integrated into the development process—and it should translate something like this in the discussion between the creative vision and the creative people:
“What do we have for Horror? What’s going on with Action? Why don’t we have a Romance in development? You know we need a feel good Drama for fall? We have two Sci Fi projects that I like…And if I don’t have a Comedy on the slate by the end of the month someone’s getting fired…Funny is money…And there’s no excuse for not having a comedy…People want to laugh right now…” And so on. A studio must have a creative pool of writers to draw from and it must know what it wants—good writers can deliver whatever is asked of them.
The end of the story is about directors and producers who deliver movies on budget on time for the business fellows. But also deliver movies that are experiences worthy of the big screen. A few months ago my friend and business associate Mark Loge was kind enough to take me to a Last Remaining Seats showing of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Los Angels Theatre—this was a sold out event attended by more than two thousand people. There were a lot of current movies showing that night in Los Angeles, but over two thousand moviegoers were watching a film made fifty-eight years ago in a building that’s seventy-five-plus-years-old. And I can’t help, but to fondly remember the three-hour, long line I waited in to see “Jaws” as a kid. Not because it starred anybody, but because it was guaranteed to make me afraid to swim in the ocean—it did! The point being that every movie should be a work of art that takes its place in the history of great movies—THERE IS NO FORMULA FOR THIS.
So why write a blog about a subject matter that seemingly affects only a very few, very well paid individuals? Because their success is our success. I’ve met a few of the few people who run studios…Had Brian Mulligan remained at Universal I would have made several movies there…I recall the thrill of getting that deal memo, it was a new business model…Vivendi bought the studio, Brian left, my deal went away, but I never stopped loving movies—and most of us love a good movie. So maybe a greater collective understanding will help the people we count on to keep us entertained. I hope so. Okay, I’m off to the studio…