Friday, June 5, 2015



For my first new blog entry in two-and-a-half years (I'm super lazy when it comes to blogging!), I want to talk about the L.A. Weekly, my city's free weekly newspaper:

On April 29th, 2015, the L.A. Weekly ran Jessica P. Ogilvie's cover story, "How Hollywood Keeps Out Women," and on February 25th, the Weekly published another cover story called "How Hollywood Keeps Minorities Out," and both articles are definitely keeping something out, and that's common sense.

The authors of both articles are correct to a large extent: Women and minorities are definitely grossly underrepresented both behind, and in front of, the camera. That is very true -- we can all agree about that! But the Weekly is presenting the stories by suggesting that racism and sexism are the reason. Hollywood is a nutty place, full of the craziest/sleaziest/most entitled and unethical people you'll ever meet, but it's about 0% racist and -2% sexist. The fact is: Hollywood is kind of like the Corleone family. It's a tiny family business, and it keeps out EVERYBODY, including 100% of white males (and even 100% of white males who happen to be, as some people suggest, Jewish) who are not already part of this world.

The movie business, not just now but always, has been a closed world that is not actively soliciting people from the outside -- white, black, or women -- unless it finds out that that person already, prior to entering the movie business, has a track record of already having made millions, or even billions, of dollars in another media -- for example, through graphic novels or a popular video game. If the person hasn't made money for a big entity but simply has millions of dollars lying around that can be invested in a movie, that person is invited into Hollywood gladly too, and the person's background or gender aren't even a factor. It's purely a business decision. It doesn't matter if you have a script that is the next "Godfather" or you made a no-budget indie that won first place in a festival. If you haven't already proven that you have a track record of making money for a publicly-owned company, or if you're not an independently wealthy person who can bring movie financing to the table, they're not letting you in, and it has nothing to do with your cultural background or your gender or the quality of your work. It isn't personal.

And why should Hollywood let you in? In 2015, it costs $100 or $200 million to make a theatrically released studio movie. Why should the movie business let you in if you haven't already proven that you can make them at least several hundred million -- right? It's definitely not personal. If I owned a movie studio, and I were responsible to my stockholders, and I had to choose somebody to direct a film, would I go with the unproven person who wrote the best screenplay I ever read or someone who made a great indie documentary that I really loved -- or would I instead go with the "proven" person who already made the superhero movie that might be horrible but which has made $1 billion (or someone who wrote a ridiculous graphic novel that made millions). I'll hire the person who made the horrible $1 billion superhero movie or the multi-million-dollar-earning graphic novel even though, as a classic film enthusiast, I'm not actually interested in seeing a superhero movie or reading a comic book, and I think that superhero movies and graphic novels are ruining and dumbing-down our culture. Nevertheless, making them is exactly how you run a profitable business.

Hollywood, for its myriad faults, is color-blind and gender-blind, and the only "color" it sees, and pardon the goofy cliche, is green. I'm tired of people saying they "can't get in" because of racism or sexism, because it's not true. Anyway: why would anybody want to write articles from the POV of a victim? The Weekly published two of them in the space of only eight weeks! If you want to "get into Hollywood" in a meaningful creative sense (in other words, in a position that's not "assistant" or "gopher"), just prove to the execs that you've already made somebody mega-bucks doing anything else in the entire world. It has zero to do with your background (or your talent, or "who you know"), either. I'm tired of people thinking they have the "right" to do something, just because of some reasons that have nothing to do with the real reason. Nobody's voice is being silenced who hasn't already proven to be a huge moneymaker. An investment banker who has never made a movie has more right to get into the movie business as a producer than an unproven screenwriter does -- and this is something that we see happening quite a lot -- because he has already proven that he can make sound, profitable business decisions. Producer Megan Ellison had no experience making movies prior to 2010, but she did have boatloads of cash to invest in movie projects, so the door opened for her pretty easily: she started Annapurna Pictures in 2011, and has made some of the greatest, most inspirational American movies in decades.

In the article about "Women," Diana Ossana, the female producer of "Brokeback Mountain" bemoans that she had to fight for her producer credit because she's a woman, yet author Larry McMurty, who wrote the screenplay, didn't have to fight for his credit, because he's a man. She's all wrong. She had to fight because collectively, her work, prior to "Brokeback Mountain," earned Hollywood zero dollars, but Larry McMurty's books have been making millions and millions of dollars for more than forty years. It's a no-brainer. There is no reward for you just based on the fact that you are "talented" or because you "tenaciously spent years bringing a project to the screen." In a commerce-based world, that -- like all emotional 'feelings' -- is completely irrelevant.

As I'm saying these things, please know that I -- just like you -- wish it could be otherwise. We're one hundred percent on the same page about that! I wish people could get into the movie business based on talent, and I wish that women, men, whites, and non-whites were making movies in equal numbers. In the 1970s, the average budget of a movie was $3 million, and if the movie made $6 million, it was a hit so, at that point in time, there were a lot of amazing movies, and Hollywood could occasionally afford to take chances on young outsider filmmakers with no proven money-making skills -- and of course, American studio movies from the '70s are some of the best American movies ever. But it's no longer like that in 2015! Studios, today, are only looking for people who can make big, epic 'tentpole' movies, and the production of these movies must, by necessity, be entrusted to people who have already proven themselves. And guess what: some of the most successful filmmakers of today's big-budget/big-earning "event" movies are women, and if you don't believe me, just take it up with Gale Anne Hurd, Kathleen Kennedy, and Kathryn Bigelow. Last time I checked, they've made some of the biggest and best movies of the last thirty years, and they're not men.

When I hire a contractor to build a house for me, I'm not going to a hire a new, unproven contractor who just got his license. I'm going to hire one with years, or even decades, of proven results. When I want to hire a caterer for a party, I'm not going to hire somebody because he's a good cook. I'm going to ask, "Show me a list of fifty or a hundred parties that you have already catered." When you are hired for any professional job, the interviewer usually wants to know how you've already helped other companies earn money.

What some people erroneously believe to be discrimination, is actually just good, old-fashioned nepotism and cronyism -- it's wrong, and it's not fair, but it's not discrimination. And now that I think of it, it's not completely wrong: If I owned a movie studio, and I had to hire a filmmaker to make a multi-million dollar movie, and I had to choose between somebody I know and somebody I don't know, assuming that both of them are equally talented, I'll probably go with the person I know, most of the time, because I already know what the person's work is like and what his track record is, and I'll also know whether he can bring the movie in on time, and on budget. Similarly, most of the time, I'm guessing that you will hire somebody you know to babysit your child, instead of leaving him with a complete stranger. How can women, or minorities, or the ACLU find fault with careful hiring practices?

Not being able to make your own movie in Hollywood, or not being able to act in or direct a Hollywood movie, has nothing to do with your background or your talent. Prove to Hollywood that you have already made money, or even that you just have a lot of money, and the gates will swing open for you -- no matter who you are. Hollywood is very democratic that way. Nobody owes you anything and nobody owes me anything.

I feel the frustration of the authors of these two well-written, but misguided, articles. I, too, wish I could "get into Hollywood" and get some of my own scripts into the pipeline! But from a very young age, I accepted that I can't, because I have not already made money for Hollywood, nor have I been able to figure out a way to invest in studio features. Nobody is being singled out for exclusion based upon race or gender. It isn't personal.

See you in another two-and-a-half years with a new blog entry! :)

___________________________________________________________________________ ABOUT ME:

In 2008, my book "World's Coolest Movie Star" was published. It's a two-volume biography and filmography of the legendary French actor Jean Gabin, who is known to American audiences for films like "Grand Illusion" and "Pepe Le Moko." This coming July, Cohen Media Group is releasing a restored Blu-ray/DVD of the 1973 movie "Two Men in Town," starring Jean Gabin and Alain Delon, and I have written and recorded a ninety-minute audio commentary track for the DVD. In 2013, my first children's book, "The Belly Button that Escaped," was published. It's a funny kid's book in the style/tone of Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein. Janice Phelps Williams illustrated my book. I have been Professor of Film and Television at Augusta State University, Georgia.

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