It's the Studio's Fault

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.
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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
corporate parents.

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
entertainment corporation,

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.

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