Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Friday, November 02, 2007

An outsider's insight.

As you know, the lovely and gracious Karen is sweating out the impending strike by the WGA, to which she belongs. Please keep her and all those folks who will suffer terribly in your prayers.
Which led me to muse on this from a couple of different perspectives.

Eons ago I had wanted to become an auteur, one of those filmmakers who did EVERYTHING and brooked no outside interference. I took a cubic boatload of film classes (in which did extremely well, thankyouverymuch) at the university level, and had my sights on being the next Scorcese (actually, closer to the proto-Tarantino, but whatev) until I realized that the people who had the sorts of things I wanted/needed generally expected payment, and I was far better able to oblige, and to a far greater degree, with an MBA under my belt than with a script for a dark comedy involving two serial killers* who bump into each other on a long hitchhiking trip.

To say nothing of having to live** in L.A. or N.Y.C. or -- ack! -- both.

But, as I mentioned to Miz K, I have always kept my eye on this field as something of a well-informed amateur on its inner doings and as a professional finance-type guy on the mechanics of the TV & film business.

The fallout will be brutal.

Most writers, if they are like most writers I know, are exclusively creative/artistic people. Invariably, this means they do not (in most cases cannot) think in an entrepreneurial way. Which has gotten them , over the course of several contracts, in the bind in which many will find themselves.

The fact is that the producers can simple wait out the writers. The vast majority of the writers, I suspect, couldn't handle more than 4-5 months of striking. This is pretty elementary B-school stuff: the entity with the least interest in a relationship wields the power and dictates terms. End of story.

A case can be made that the business model upon which this sort of thing hinges is ancient and decrepit, necessitating these sorts of work actions. It should be (as a model) far closer to the Silicon Valley model than it is. But it isn't and it's not likely to be, until something from outside comes along at rips its head off. (Hollywood being Hollywood, memories are short and IQs shorter, so nobody remembers how catastrophically they dealt with paradigm quakes such as sound or TV).

As a pretty sober MBA-type, I can say pretty confidently that any business model that has an Us vs. Them component in its team structure is a walking fossil. Make that lumbering, limping fossil. More on that anon.

In the medium term, this does not bode well for people who like their media consumption on the "intelligent or better" side. TV has yet to recover -- I really doubt it ever will -- from the 1988 strike...at least in terms of quality. Definitely in terms of market share. Let's look at the quality angle first.

Here's a quiz:

Let's suppose you are a big executive at Big Network. There are no writers writing any scripts and you are staring at endless hours of dead air, for months on end. What do you do?

1- Do you go to the library, dig out a bunch of Shakespeare/Euripides plays and shoot those "stright" and giving the broad American audience a taste of great artwork?

2- Parachute 25 Hooters waitresses on a Caribbean island with a month's supply of XTC, assorted gels and the imminent threat of a spandex-eating vipers?

Yeah.

This is to say nothing of the inevitable script rot that hits after a long period of inactivity. If you look at the shows that survived the 1988 strike, I'd say that most of them jumped the shark. I defy anyone to show me a show from series TV that was brilliant in 1987 still on the air and brilliant in 1990, a mere three years later. Exactly.

Now ponder what arises from the quality issues. Not everybody will want to embalm their mind watching Hooters waitresses on an island. Some people will just turn off the TV and find they don't miss it. They'll read books. Watch films. Cook. Sleep more. Others will start watching BBC America (where intelligent writing doesn't seem to carry the stigma it does here) or other channels. Others, savvier, hipper, and with Alpha male-like societal leadership traits, will find the new and uncharted territories.

From where I type, Hollywood's mindset has always been a combative one. Maybe it's because of all those crusty hard@$$ types who came over from the East Coast in the early 1900s, having scratched out some financial success despite the discrimination and difficulty there*** and that adversarial quality has imprinted itself in the DNA of the place. Combativeness often leads to dismissiveness. "___ is nothing but a fad." While Hollywood haggles over who gets what percentage over what's distributed over the new media, the new media is awakening to what it wants to distribute. And it's not AirBud III.

And aggregate Hollywood will not know what hit them and will wonder why they are all covered in bright, wet red, in pain with their innards strewn casually on the floor. For reasons which I have not been able to fathom, the Hollywood types simply do not "get" the Internet. But for those who are willing to think and see, I'll give them a hint: where the blogosphere and talk radio have taken the news media, things such as YouTube will eventually take creative media. Those "distribution channels" are actually drastically lowered barriers to entry. The sort that made Adam Smith's naughty bits all tingly.

In sum, I see this as a lose-lose.

The studios -- sorry, Karen -- will probably "win." They don't have to worry about mortgages, car payments, tuition, etc. They will use the down time to rejigger things and a year after it's all over, the landscape will be far harsher (albeit "fairer") to writers. They will smugly go back about their business amid self-congratulatory plaudits over a battle won, not realize they lost the war...and like dinosaurs never bother with the meteor that hit way over there.

Oy.

-J.

* Don't even try it. My lawyers will not leave flesh on bone and once set loose I cannot recall them.

** My rules for where I wish to reside are very simple: No state income tax, no discernible winter or seasons, no "company towns" and it must be within 10 minutes of the sea coast.

L.A. fails #1 & #3, and N.Y.C. fails #1 & #2. Alas, global warming has not made New Hampshire the tropical paradise it ought to be, and Arizona is still waiting for plate tectonics to give it its fair shot at being the Pacific coast. Karen smugly says the mountains are the place to be when the Islamofascists show up, but I am not convinced they have amphibious assault capabilities.

*** If you really want to insult an Hollywood person, calmly tell them they dress like someone from Boston.