The Self Fulfilling Idiocy of Hollywood Keeps on Fulfilling, Idiotically...

I usually blog about writing and books here, but my main blog is about the business of pop culture, and since this post is also about the rights of writers, I figured I should post it here to.

Oy gevalt.

I just can't understand the people who run Hollywood these days. I mean I can contemplate their motivations, and even theorize about them, but I just can't picture myself doing the same things.

That's because I have the ability to see things beyond the next quarterly bonus.

Too bad no one in Hollywood seems to be able to do that.

The story goes something like this, according to reports by Nikki Finke, the Writers Guild are currently having conniptions and hurling threats of legal actions, labour actions, and any other kinds of actions they can think of at the studio's bargaining body the AMPTP because the promised residuals for "new media" presentations of the TV shows and movies they write are not getting paid.

Can you see the problem inherent in this decision?

If not, I'll explain.

Now the moguls are probably thinking that they're being smart because of all the money they're saving and how it'll boost their bonuses enough to buy Aston Martins for their trophy wives and their mistresses too.

They're wrong.

They're being really, really, really stupid.

Think about it for a second...

Okay time's up.

There are two reasons why all these shenanigans are a false solution that can only succeed in creating more problems or what I call a self fulfilling idiocy.

Money is tight right now, investment capital is even tighter. While some studios have some pre-set deals with specialist investment houses to handle financing their films, some, like Paramount, don't, and those deals don't cover everything, and Hollywood needs that money, and lots of it.

Now imagine that you're a wealthy investor, you have a money, and you don't want to play the stock market right now while it's currently nose-diving, and want a safe place to put your money to work.

Would you invest with companies that are willing to risk expensive labour actions, and litigation to get out of paying a bill that's probably no bigger than an average CEO's annual bonus?

If the people who provide the material that makes the industry function can't get paid, can you honestly trust them to pay you a return on your investment?

The answer to both questions is NO.


Okay, right now the AMPTP's moneyed membership are being accused of fraud on a massive scale and of negotiating in bad faith. The AMPTP thinks they're safe because they're juiced in with Washington, especially with the incoming Democratic administration/Congressional majority, but that's not all it's cracked up to be. Two groups of people can turn the ever fickle Washington against them.

A) The Unions. United, the unions can join with other labour organisations like the AFL-CIO to raise a major stink with the politicians, and while the AMPTP members can provide money and media support (which many critics consider a default anyway), the Unions can mobilize money, volunteers, and votes.

B) Shareholders. The glamour of show-biz can be dazzling, but getting your picture taken with Angelina Jolie at Wolfgang Puck's Oscar party can only go so far when their investment isn't putting any green in their bank accounts. They're going to start wondering why the executives get so much, they get so little because the guys getting so much claim there are no profits to share. They're going to start making their own noise, and pulling their own strings.

And if A and B do this at the same time, the moguls can look forward to real trouble.

All it takes is one ambitious US Attorney, or State Attorney General looking to get loads of face time in the press with indictments that'll spark speculation about which celebrity will testify against who. Sure, the media conglomerates own most of the networks, but even their own corporate catamites can't resist the temptation of an "A-List" star on the witness stand.

Plus, look at the career of former New York State Attorney General Eliot "Pass the Hooker" Spitzer. A smart prosecutor could indict a cocker-spaniel if it was rich enough, sparking publicly humiliating perp walks, firings, and costly consent decrees, and sometimes convictions whether he had an actual crime to prosecute or not. Spitzer became the terror of Wall Street, and got himself elected governor on this before his own sins caught up with him.

And there's a good reason for this...

Grand juries, and trial juries do not like rich men. They'll indict or even convict if enough people claim the evil Snidely Whiplash ripped off their investment. They don't see a successful business man or woman in the defendant's table, they'll see Snidely Whiplash laughing as the orphans are cast out of their home into a blizzard while stroking his evilly waxed moustaches, and they'd vote to hang if they could.

Sometimes they don't even need a crime to do it.

All I can do is beg the people who run Hollywood to step back from the abyss, before it's too late and they end chewed up and spat out by the politicians they think they own.

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Comment by D.R. MacMaster on November 21, 2008 at 3:00am
You're probably right, but my background is in film, so that's what I crank about, plus it's so bloody blatant, and deeply rooted into the very culture of show business, that just almost all the industry's problems rise from it.

And you're probably right about MBA programs, I read an article years ago that said that the best CEOs of the most successful companies, don't have MBAs, but instead have degrees in history, english, and political science. I don't know how accurate that is, but it makes sense.
Comment by Dana King on November 21, 2008 at 1:55am
I don't mean for this to be too much of a blanket statement, but all industries seem to show a shortsightedness similar to what you've expressed here. (Publishing and finance are two examples most readers here can relate to.) This type of business approach seems to have become prominent about the time the MBA became the degree to have. Might there be something missing in MBA programs? A consideration of unintended consequences, perhaps? Long term planning? Ethics?

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