Thursday, January 08, 2009

Big Hollywood and Why I Admire David Zucker

Yeah, if you're just here for LEVERAGE pr0n, best skip this. For you newcomers, I may need to establish that this is my blog, not an official blog of TNT. All opinions on this site are utterly my own. Only I am responsible for them. TNT or any other parent company neither agrees or endorses anything on this site.

Seriously, you're not going to enjoy this. Go back to TWoP.



Stop e-mailing me. Stop wondering, in your blog, when I'm going to start going over there. One or two odd posts where the facts are wrong, I can handle that -- hell, that was the whole point of "Just Stay Down", people's hypotheses should be tested against actual facts. It was an intellectual exercise in the scientific method. With snark.

But after swinging by Big Hollywood this morning, I realized (me) + (that site) = (getting on the boat to look for Kurtz).

It's a crack pinata. It's a garden of crack pinatas, and I'm spinning and spinning -- half the site is triumphantly noting that Hollywood is finally making conservative or secretly conservative big budget mega-hits (Dark Knight! Iron Man! Transformers!) while the other half bemoans how Hollywood keeps making anti-war/anti-American movies mega-flops. Somehow the massive hits made by mega-corporations are happy subversive accidents, while flops are the direct product of these exact same mega-corporations' self-destructive liberal agendas.

For chrissake, there's even one woman, the sum total of her post was how Hollywood types don't worry about taxes because we incorporate and then laugh at the Red State rubes who pay taxes. Because S-corps don't exist outside the 90210 zip code, as you well know. But Hollywood is laughing at you, America! This post basically summarizes populist conservative rhetoric in America, brought to its alchemically pure conclusion in Sarah Palin: "Oh , they think they're sooo smart, don't they? Well we'll show them!"


This is the section you were probably sent here for. It's not here anymore. A friend of mine e-mailed me, and pointed out that personal attacks were beneath the level of this blog, particularly now that it's a group blog. He basically ass-kicked me, and he's right. I can't invite Mark and Mike on here, try to make the focus of the blog in the new year alt media production, and continue on these rants. I certainly can't pick this fight, and then deny Comments. At the same time, I desperately never, ever, ever want to discuss these humans again.

The major teaching point is: do not post at 1 am.

Let's just note that Big Hollywood's bugaboo is "Hollywoood"'s incessant attempt to shove anti-war/anti-culture movies down our throats. In particular, Editor-in-Chief John Nolte notes that there were 16 movies he'd consider anti-War in the last two years, most of which were actually independently produced documentaries or did not, in fact, directly involve the Iraq War. And that they flopped. Actual numbers show that most broke even at least. You can recreate the research with five minutes and BoxOffice Mojo.

But I was, to be blunt, a raving asshole while I made that point. And I'm trying to do less of that. As a matter of fact, consider this my last binge of the New Year, before the resolution kicks in.

You can probably find this original page in the Google cache.

So consider it trimmed down tooooo ....


"Now, John," you might say, as a reasonable human, "that's not fair. Big Hollywood's argument is that the anemic box office domestically indicates Americans don't want to see movies that show America in a bad light, and despite that fact Hollywood produces lots of them -- okay, not lots of them but anyway -- still produces these movies because of its liberal bias. You should engage his intended argument, not his actual one."

Well, first off, for a trillion dollar industry dedicated to pushing anti-War movies on America, dedicating to this cause less than 5% of the last 300 movies kind of indicates our hearts aren't really into it. Not to mention the limited number of release theaters for most of the movies we discussed. FIFTEEN THEATERS for Redacted, for chrissake. Here's a quick clue -- when Hollywood wants to sell something, we make it as widely available as possible for purchase. Crazy, I know. What sort of marketing mumbo-jumbo is this?

You'll note thay evil "Hollywood" kind of lay down on the oppression job, allowing An American Carol to be released in 1600+ theaters, and Proud American to be released in 750 theaters, and Expelled to be released in over 1000 theaters, the widest release of a documentary in history. As far as soul-crushing propaganda machines go, we are not getting the memos out, apparently.

Let's take a moment to address the first, possibly non-crazy part of that argument: we should use domestic box office. No, because Nolte was right to use the worldwide box office in his argument.

This is how it works, kids. Hollywood is run by large corporations. Large corporations do not want to make controversial political movies. Which is why, by and large, they don't. They want to make franchise-friendly four-quadrant super-profitable family entertainment, with some sex comedies for the teens/dumb-guy comedies for college students, sprinkled liberally with horror movies for Date Night. Which is why, by and large, they do.

This is not hard. This is capitalism. Capitalism is our friend.

Artsy People in Hollywood, on the other hand, often want to do something artistically satisfying, or personally important. And, too, studios sometimes want to win awards, because with that prestige comes more bargaining power with the Artsy People, and often more profits. And, hey, some Execs are secret Artsy People. It's kind of cool, actually.

So let's pretend I'm Reese Witherspoon. I'm going to do that right now. Gosh, I'm pretty. This shirt doesn't go with my eyes, though --

-- okay, let's bail on that. Let's pretend we're watching Reese Witherspoon. NO! Not like that! What is wrong with you people?! Let's make you Reese Witherspoon. You can bear the burden.

Right, Reese. After a couple years as the It Girl in little dramas, you break big in Pleasantville/Cruel Intentions/Election. You have a hell of a year. Now you are the Head on the Poster, and in five years you topline movies making Suits lots of money. How much money? Roughly $770 million worldwide by 2005, not to mention winning an Oscar along the way, which increases both your marketability and the marketability of every movie you star in from now on.

You then announce that you found a very tough little script called Rendition you want to do. You'll do it on the cheap. Anybody wanna help?

The correct answer is "Who do you need dead, Miss Witherspoon?"

There is some trepidation, of course, in the studio office. Let us produce a short play to illustrate how both the dilemma and the resolution may have played out:

Suit #1: In this movie you have brought me, Reese Witherspoon -- America's blonde shiksa sweetheart -- is married to an Arab who is wrongfully kidnapped by the Americans, and tortured. Because, you imply, stopping terrorism can sometimes be bad.

Suit #2: Yes.

Suit #1: Get the fuck out of my office.

Suite #2:
If we do this, if we take this risk for her, she may spend her enormous marketplace capital on a project of ours in the future. Say, that script for Romantic Comedy #283 sitting there on your desk.

Suit #1:
I am intrigued, but still trepidacious.

Suit #2:
She may win an Oscar. She's done it before, it's a serious drama ... that would boost our profile, add to our marketplace capital, and insure profitability with the Oscar Bump.

Suit #1: Still not sure. Let us call Foreign Sales Guy.

Foreign Guy: (entering) I sensed you needed me.

Suit #1:
Reese Witherspoon. Anti-war drama.

Foreign Guy: Budget?

Suit #2: Under thirty million. Gyllenhal's in it too.

Foreign Guy: Reese Witherspoon reading -- not even aloud, just sitting and reading -- will sell X million tickets worldwide. Gyllenhal's a bonus. You're covered.

Suit #2: Thank you, Foreign Guy.

Foreign Guy: You're welcome. Now excuse me, I have to go kill an African-American comedy two offices down.

Thus, a box-office "flop" is born -- because it is, in fact, probably going to be profitable in the long run, and make Artsy/Important people happy. And it just might be a really, really good movie.


This leads us to why, frankly, I admire the hell out of David Zucker.

Because this is the decision everyone makes in Hollywood -- actors, directors, even execs. You have Hollywood Capital -- reputation, proven box office performance both domestic and foreign -- a non-physical set of Assets within the economic system, but capital A-assets nonetheless. (It is, frankly, damn close to a reputation-based economy. Hollywood runs on whuffie.)

And let us get this straight. You have earned that asset, through a mix of hard work and luck, like every other independent contractor in the nation. You have something people wish to buy. It has a value, established in an open and free pure public marketplace.

You then trade this capital with other participants in your indistry for services or products. Services like creative control, or exclusivity, or a product like a script you want, or the studio's own resources -- time, money, access to physical production means, promotion apparatus -- dedicated to your own agenda. This is what every person who has made one of these movies has done. Even execs trade their capital to make movies that might be a risk but might be art, and it's their right, because it's their capital. And if they fuck up, the marketplace will HAMMER them for it.

That's what David Zucker did for An American Carol.

Zucker took his Hollywood Capital, his money, his rep, and his relationships, and invested it in a project he believed in. Hell, do you think that was easy? To make that movie in Hollywood? The amount of shit he must have taken? Good. For. Him.

Was it funny? Well, not to enough people, I guess. But that doesn't matter. He spent his Hollywood Capital, and made the product he both believed in and believed the American Public would buy. Which is exactly how every one of these movies was made. This is what Witherspoon and Gyllenhal did for Rendition. The financiers did for In the Valley of Elah. The stars of Lions for Lambs. It's what Gibson did for Passion of the Christ. They spent their Hollywood Capital, and took their risk. Often slightly less risk as far as Hollywood structure goes because of the nature of the community, but an equal risk in the marketplace.

The difference is, the guys at Big Hollywood look at Stop-Loss -- costing $25 million and making $11 million -- and deduce that America is rejecting Hollywood's liberal agenda. While I look at An American Carol -- costing $20 million and making $7 million -- and deduce "Huh, people didn't seem to like that movie."

Indeed, I might look at the failure of those two overtly political movies at the either end of the ideological spectrum say "Huh, people don't seem to like overtly political movies from either end of the ideological spectrum." But probably not, as I'm not the sort of fuckwit who tries to derive patterns off two lousy data points.


So that's the short (ahem) version of why I'm not going over to Big Hollywood, and it will absolutely be my last post on the place. Hell, I'm closing the Comments on this post, because even idly reading them, positive or negative, will be a waste of time. Why? Because they relate to Big Hollywood.

We at Kung Fu Monkey, between Doctor Who jokes and comic book references and the odd political screed, are in the business of Making Shit, or helping you Make your Shit. When conservatives Make Shit we applaud, because we know how hard it is (Good for you, Sherwood Baptist Church. Aces up.)

When conservatives -- or liberals -- spend all their time bitching about how hard it is to Make Shit, they're not worth anyone's time.