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Who You Gonna Call? Why Women Should Be Concerned with a Female Ghostbusters

Earlier this week, Paul Feig and co. officially committed to making an all-female version of the beloved Ghostbusters classic which is set to begin filming early next year. The scribe, Katie Dippold (The Heat, Parks and Recreation), will be co-writing with Feig whom she also worked with on The Heat, starring Melissa McCarthy.

The reaction was swift and equally divisive. Many women praised Paul Feig for taking a step in the right direction by casting more women in a major feature. Others belittled Feig for messing with a classic and the beloved cast — and worst of all, others accused him of “militant feminism” (feel free to browse through the hate here in the comments section at your own discretion).

Whatever your thoughts on a Ghostbuster re-boot, many rightfully noted the gender politics behind this decision. While as a woman I am 100% in favor of better and more numerous on-screen representation of women, I believe this is NOT the way to go about it.

Why?

1. Don’t Preach

First and foremost, people don’t like being preached to. Even where an individual is inclined to agree with the view or issue being preached, people don’t like it because they would rather arrive at the conclusion on their own. People don’t like it when they feel something is being forced down their throat, or when a message is too self-aware. By making this about women over the film itself, Feig has set this up as gender politics first, a Ghostbusters reboot second. Such a divisive strategy is not good marketing for this film.

A while back, Mike Flemming of Deadline wrote an extremely one-sided, offensive take on why he thought an all female Ghostbusters was a bad idea, namely why he disagreed with Feig’s decision to consider doing so. In making his argument he used sexist language and offended his female readership in the process. Afterward many took to Twitter and social media to take up sides on why or why not an all-female Ghostbusters would be a good idea. While both sides agreed that Flemming’s article was offensive, the camps disagreed on whether an all female cast would actually work in this case.

While supportive of greater onscreen representation, many noted that the way in which Feig chose to go about stirring the pot  was not constructive for the cause of diversity in casting. The message was too self-aware, and to quote one Deadline commenter, “this film will forever be shrouded in controversy, and that’s not good for anyone.”

2. Who You Gonna Blame? Women.

What happens when you make your film about women before the actual film itself? You may unintentionally be setting up women for immense failure.

If this film should underperform for any reason, mark my words, the all female cast will get the single blame. It won’t matter the star power involved, or the quality of the film itself. As history has shown us in the past, when a female film tanks, the female is blamed before many other factors. A good example of this at work are the films Elektra, starring Jennifer Garner fresh off Daredevil and Cat Woman starring Halle Berry fresh off James Bond.

Have you seen a female super hero film since those two films were released in 2005, and 2004 respectively? No – there has not been one. While these two films were truly awful, from story to the directing itself, the blame sadly fell on the female stars at their center.

The failure of Ghostbusters may work unintentionally the same way. If it tanks, it will be years if not decades before execs think twice about green-lighting an all female comedy or mega-budget film. Especially given the preachy nature of Feig on this matter, if it fails, diversity nay-sayers will be the first to line up and say “I told you so” while green-lighting another decade of white all-American male led films at the expense of women.

This is a risk that in my opinion outweighs the prospective benefit of this movie being a success. It will work decidedly against the goals they are trying to achieve.

3. Why Ghostbusters?

Seriously though, why? I am a female and even I find this to be a terrible idea. The only thing more terrible than rebooting a film famous for its incredibly iconic cast would be to cast Melissa McCarthy in place of Dan Akroyd. Without going into detail on why I think McCarthy’s fat-trope humor is unproductive to representation of women on screen, let me focus on why I think this idea stinks to begin with.

The original film has a cult following. Key to understanding why a film gains such a following are the ingredients that made it work in the first place. There are so many other films that do not have the emotional attachment issues that Ghostbusters has. I am pretty sure you would upset a lot of people by casting current male comedy stars like Seth Rogan or Zach Galifianakis in place of the originals too. People don’t want to have their cult titles messed with by modern conglomeritzed Hollywood.

Instead of Ghostbusters why not try to come up with an awesome new generation of comedy for women to star in? If commercial appeal or brand-tie in’s are your concern as a conglomerate, why not reboot a film that doesn’t have this level of attachment, emotionally? I would much rather see an all female cast appear in something new than to fight to overcome the incredible expectations that will be set for them to out-do the original cast.

And for the love of God, keep McCarthy out of this film!

Conclusion

There are just too many hurdles for this film to climb to make a success out of it. The risk of the films failure additionally threatens to hurt more than help onscreen representation of women.

While Feig’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place, he has set in motion controversy that threatens to derail this cause. In order to give women a better seat at the movie star table, we need to be united on this issue, not divided. By coming out the way he did to announce his intentions for this film, he has given this film an even bigger hill to climb.

My last words: if you want to see more women on screen, support this film and see it in theaters no matter how bad. I believe in having to overcome the original, the attempt will likely be pretty mediocre with a male or female cast in lead.

Frankly, I think women deserve better than this.

A Word on IMDb (From a Film Industry Perspective)

IMDB

IMDb, short for The Internet Movie Database. Launched in 1990 by computer programmer Col Needham, the site quickly took off as the go-to for folks looking to find information about their favorite film titles. The site boasts over 2 million titles from around the globe, providing information from cast and crew all the way to goofs, trivia and message boards for fans to discuss the movies they’ve seen.

As the site grew, so too did the need to find a way to monetize its content. In 1998, Col sold IMDb to Amazon as a subsidiary, maintaining control over the operation of the site in exchange for allowing Amazon to advertise sale of DVDs on the site. The site remained with Col in charge, along with a number of managers and section managers in charge of monitoring content.

In 2002 at the Sundance Film Festival, IMDb launched a Pro service to compete for the business of entertainment industry professionals. Like Tracking Board or Done Deal Pro and similar services, IMDbPro sought to give professionals a behind the scenes access for fee regarding the dealings of the industry. The main difference being, it is much more limited than its competitors, often lagging behind in terms of reporting news. It exists primarily for those looking to use the site more in terms of LinkedIn and resume building than actual access to information.

The fact remains, IMDb is NOT a valuable tool for those in the industry. More often than not, it is actually a minor inconvenience.

IMDb is primarily reserved for the info-hungry movie going public, which was the case since its inception in 1990. As the site grew, growing to become an Alexa top-50 site on the internet, it became increasingly important for industry professionals to be mindful of the correctness of information on the site, as well as monitoring message-boards to keep track of buzz regarding projects. It is NOT a tool used by the industry to browse deals, gather info etc. as IMDbPro likes to suggest, it is an informational tool for the non-industry movie-going public.

Industry professionals don’t use IMDbPro for anything more than to correct information, or sparsely update development details of projects. They are primarily following the Tracking Board, or Done Deal Pro or any other number of services with more direct ties to the business. However, as IMDb is the public face of their industry, they must still update the site, which at times can become problematic.

The reason this site has also become a hindrance is that professionals now must monitor their reputation and projects on yet another website, one which of late has increasingly failed to quality assure information as it had in the past. As the site grows, more and more staff must be hired to overlook the volume of entries to movie titles, actor info, corrections, deletions and any other range of information. This information is submitted through page-edits by site users (not necessarily within the industry), like Wikipedia, but the information is then quality assured and approved by a section manager.

Recently, I was making corrections to my own page, when out of curiosity, I decided to look up a favorite producer and former mentor of mine. Under his Past Projects, I noticed a suspicious new animation entry slated for release this December. At first I was even fooled by it, it had 67 listed crew members and a release date. I figured, surely if it got past Section Managers, it must be legit! I clicked on it, and immediately saw the “director” credited under multiple departments, including voice actor, storyboard artist and animator. When I clicked on distributors and company info, no production company was listed, those distributors that were listed were competitors (they would never co-distribute in the same territories). Red flags were everywhere. The film didn’t even list a writer! And in the back of my mind, I felt I would have heard about a project moving forward if one of my favorite filmmakers were involved.

Since I have an IMDPro account, I decided over my lunch break to do a little investigative work, and what I uncovered should show just how bad IMDb quality assurance has become.

I Googled the film’s title in quotations (since the title itself was very generic) alongside the name of the director (also in quotations). What I found were two website results – that’s it. Only two unverifiable sites, and nothing industry related!

The first site was an Instagram account of the director, animator, storyboard artist jack-of-all trades who pulled off this elaborate prank on IMDb. He is a 19 year-old college student living in Idaho. On his account, he advertised an animated poster of the film with hash-tags denoting crew, distributors and phony release information. On the second site, a Wikia page, he drew up a mock credit and film Wikia page (much like IMDb). There he tried to tie his fake film in with the Producer (also ironically once an Idaho college student) and a past animated title of his (hint: there is no relation between these two films).

So IMDb allowed a fake film to be submitted to its site with only a Wikia page (easily created by the prankster – and probably pathological liar) and an Instagram account to “verify” its existence. Not a single mention of this project exists on any verifiable website from Trade dailies to the Tracking Board, or in the news, or uttered by the Producer(s) or distributors themselves. What took me a 3 minute Google search to uncover, was completely overlooked by IMDb!

I have since requested IMDb remove the title from its website, since I am sure my favorite producer would be quite irked if he’s even seen it (as I am sure the other 65 or so “crew members” would be). I have yet to hear back, but I am sure they will corroborate and follow through.

This is just one instance I have seen, heard of or dealt with regarding a serious lapse in quality control of high-value information on IMDb. These people are worth millions of dollars, and their image matters very much. The other producer listed (in addition to my former mentor and professional influence) has made over a billion dollars in Box Office the past two years alone! This is completely irresponsible (almost negligent) by IMDb to allow a 19 year old from the Mountain West to misrepresent folks in the business this way.

The fact that this even has to occur is ridiculous, especially since they recently raised prices on their Pro membership. This is something I would expect from Wikipedia, but not from a paid service with Section Managers overseeing submissions. Pro membership offers little, other than to have management over your page or projects (which is an obvious necessity in the information age). IMDb has forced its way into industry relevancy as an information access point. I have yet to meet people in the business who value it as a truly reputable resource the way the Tracking Board or other forums/sites are seen.

So for now, I await IMDb doing the right thing and taking this ridiculous prank off its site. And when they do, I will promptly suspend my Pro account until they can assure me lapses in quality like this won’t happen again. The industry frankly deserves a better information outlet and public face.

Director Kathryn Bigelow accepting the Academy Award for Best Director

Are the Hollywood Guilds & Labor Unions Also to Blame for Dismal Female Employment Numbers?

Recognize the woman at the outset of this post? That’s Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award winning director and of course a “female director.” She is also the example every diversity naysayer in the industry uses to illustrate their claim that “women are doing just fine in the business.”

The reality is much different of course. Women continue to struggle, even more so today than 20 years ago. However, there is one thing I will agree with these diversity naysayers on, and that is the repeated claim that “there are very few women directors and writers to hire.”

The DGA and its diversity task force frequently cite their studies, and comparable studies done by USC and UCLA, that women only made up 14% of directors on television projects over the past year. They cite similar abysmal numbers concerning feature films, where women directed only 8% of films theatrically released in 2013.

Looking at these percentages alone, one would be hard pressed to conclude things are going well for women in Film/TV. The numbers are equally depressing on the female writer front, with women writing only 27% of TV content and 16% of film according to the 2014 WGA Writers Report.

And yet, these are not the most shocking numbers.

These numbers are actually in line with the percentage of female membership in the Guilds themselves!

While the DGA and WGA West do not make percentage of their membership available by gender-breakdown, they do provide a list of members by gender. Using the search by gender function on both the DGA website, and the WGA West website, I was able to assign percentage of females in full membership of both guilds. Since most Writers/Directors come from NY and LA, I limited my calculations to include the overall makeup of women members residing in these cities (so the margin of error is around +/- 3%).

The Directors Guild of America is comprised of only 15.9% female membership.

The Writers Guild of America West is comprised of only 11.9% female membership. The Writers Guild East does not even allow people to search their website for a writer by gender or minority status!

When Hollywood goes to Guilds to find diverse employment (assuming they even do, for most hires are referrals which result in limited diversity), they only have a small number of women to choose from to begin with.

So Hollywood is actually not incorrect when they make the claim that there are few women directors or writers to choose from.

The guild’s are to some degree are OK with this, even if they actively commission Diversity Task Forces and panels ad nauseam.

Why? Well, it begins with understanding the actual purpose of a guild or labor union and the barriers to entry that exist to find yourself a member of one.

Guilds and labor unions by their very nature are anti-competitive. If you’ve followed American politics at all, you may have heard of “Right to Work States.” These states believe that independent of union membership, folks who are qualified to do the job can take that job independent of whether they belong to a labor union for that respective trade. Unions do not like Right to Work States because they want THEIR members to get those jobs. The reason they want their members to get these jobs is because they want the union dues inside their coffers versus in the savings of private companies that hire non-union work.

The same is true of Hollywood labor unions and guilds. Virtually no domestic production is working outside of the confines of the DGA or WGA. A studio film is not going to hire outside of the union for a writer, or a director. Also based on production locations, the crew itself is unlikely to not belong to a labor union like the IATSE or local branches of various “bellow the line” positions.

The unions have a vested interest in limited competition because they want to see their members get all the work. When it comes to employment in Film/TV, that work is already very hard to come by.

So why are there not more female members inside these guilds or unions? It all begins with how one can even obtain membership.

A recent study done by allies of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) crunched BEA data to conclude that women only comprised 23% of film crews, and a meager 5% of Camera and Electrical departments.

In order for someone to gain membership in the Directors Guild of America, dependent on local regulations, on average a candidate must have approximately 1500 hours on a DGA signatory project (major Film/TV show). To even get in this position, one needs to work their way up on a film crew to get in the position to work as a DGA trainnee, find an entry-level camera position or find a way to develop an independent project as a DGA signatory. There are few exceptions to these rules for commercial/notable reasons.

If women only comprise 23% of film crews, and only 5% of Camera and Electrical departments, that means few women will qualify to join the DGA.

The picture is similar for women trying to get into the WGA West/East. In order to become a member in full standing, a writer must satisfy 24 units of work (which vary based upon project type). The only type of work that results in 24 units is the sale of a feature screenplay or the bible to a TV or miniseries project of at least four hours.

If women comprise such a low number of writers inside writers rooms, they are not exactly going to be racking up the units required. As far as the sale of a script goes, the number of specs sold has steadily declined over the years as studios and production companies focus on franchises. The best shot at selling a script remains landing on the Black List (a list of the industries favorite un-produced screenplays of the year – note the subjective word favorite). Sadly, the Black List is also largely void of women (women were less than 20% of the 2013 List) with some men landing on the 2013 List twice!

With competition stiffer than ever for an increasingly smaller number of jobs available domestically, the labor unions and guilds have little incentive to focus on new-member initiatives. As mentioned, unions are responsible to their current members. In the case of Hollywood, that membership is still overwhelmingly white-male. While these guilds and unions do receive a fee from new members, that dollar amount is a much smaller percentage of their overall financial picture than are the receipts from their more profitable members, which also skews white-male according to the above linked Writers and Directors reports from this year.

The obvious problem is that the guilds just do not have the member numbers to achieve diversity initiatives on their own, no matter how many initiatives they form. Regarding the makeup of the numbers of working women in the industry, many women are actually double counted in industry-provided statistics, meaning only a small number of the same women and people of color are working, a-la the Kathryn Bigelow syndrome: “Bigelow won an Oscar, things are looking up for women in film!”

So how can we ultimately achieve better representation of women and minorities in Film/TV?

Through State and Federal regulation.

Unfortunately, it is not in the industries best interest to self-police when it comes to diversity hires. With numbers stagnant for years, it is clear that film crews have not budged in favor of more diverse representation behind the scenes. When film school enrollment is near 50/50 for women as it is men, there is clearly a disconnect when it ultimately comes time to hire.

Film and TV continue to receive incredible amounts of tax-payer funded incentives to film on location. The Federal Government also gave the Film/TV community a sizable percentage of the infamous Obama ‘American Recovery and Re-Investment Act.’ It’s time to force films and television to be in compliance with Federal laws regarding diversity in employment and Title IX rules.

While certain incentives are linked to diversity hires across the country, these rules and regulations are not currently strict enough. Crews can hire women and people of color as non-speaking extras to comply with diversity regulations, all while critical departments remain overwhelmingly white and male. Regulations should require a bare minimum in ALL departments if a film or TV show is going to be the recipient of tax payer subsidies.

Additionally, the Department of Labor should look into the hiring practices of film & production companies for possible discrimination. The industry has failed to take the concerns of females and POC seriously, and has thus again failed to self-police. If it is indeed discrimination, the Federal government by law is responsible to remedy the situation.

Sadly, an anonymous member of one of the Guilds told me this conversation has been held to little effect. The industry does not want to have outsiders policing its hiring practices, because again, it’s not in their best interest to change what at present is a profitable status quo. While many guilds have tried to encourage trainees who are women or POC, they haven’t done much in terms of changing the overall makeup of the guilds or production sets themselves.

That does not mean we should not stop trying.

If Guilds and industry insiders are serious about diversity, they will champion diverse hiring practices at all levels, including in non-union positions that lead to employment within a union itself. In the interim, I have considered the idea of a 501(c)4 tax-exempt organization aimed at cooperating with the industry to educate insiders about diversity practices and provide significant training to women & people of color for roles that lead to employment with guilds and unions. I have also privately proposed the idea of an all-female equivalent to the Black List and other pre-guild talent searches that focus on underrepresented segments of the film and TV community.

We cannot achieve diversity by focusing only on the members already in the guild or union, though they are obviously important too. We need to be concerned about the fact that women currently represent only 23% of a film’s crew on average. Numbers are unlikely to budge if we are not focused on the next generation of diverse talent. And so diversity begins with entry-level hiring and practices best aimed at encouraging an equal shot at entry into elite guilds and unions.

While change may be hard for some to swallow, I believe more Kathyrn Bigelow’s and Nora Ephron’s in our industry would be a good thing for the industry and guilds overall, don’t you? Let’s all work to be the change, because diversity does not hinge on any one organization or show. It must be a combined effort, and it must not wait any longer than it already has.

LE MEPRIS

Hollywood Happy Endings

 

At the end of Jean Luc Goddard’s Le Mepris (Contempt), Brigitte Bardot’s character Camille runs off with a producer in his fancy Alfa Romeo convertible. Following the gradual collapse of her relationship with Paul, she finds what she believes to be happiness through her new found freedom. Before she can realize her new life with Mr. Bigshot, the car is wrecked in a fiery accident and the movie comes to an abrupt close.

Poor Brigitte can never find happiness, not in Contempt.

Made in 1964 at the height of the French New Wave, Le Mepris was a subtly brilliant film, making use of a cramped production design to illustrate the cage-like feeling of entrapment. The film explored the idea of Amour as it were meant to be explored in a painfully realistic light. There would be no happy ending to this romance, because there wasn’t supposed to be.

Life does not always come equipped with happy endings, no matter how hard we try to force their dreamlike reality upon us. Yet Hollywood and its profitable escapism has lead people to desire things impossible, to embrace the happy ending as the only possibility.

Hollywood does this in reality too. Beyond the shiny new sets and green-screens, Hollywood feeds this line of the happy ending to all who pursue it as career. Put in the struggle and the hard-work, and you will make it.

Self help gurus litter the Twitter landscape and the Blacklist (while useful) is happy to take aspiring writers money for mediocre notes (at best) even when those writers are not ready to submit to such a service. 

Hollywood loves to talk about the folks who make it, but rarely do we discuss all those who crash up against its pearly gates. This concept of Hollywood as heaven,  this idea of the “break” as savior is idolized by aspirings everywhere. So desperate for advice and some clarity, those vulnerable to dreams want justification for their pursuit of this heaven. Many in the business have not only been happy to give that justification, but to profit it from it as well.

Here’s the reality, you will probably not make it in this business. There is no guarantee any more than there is a set of rules you must follow in order to get your foot into heavens gates. There is no bible you can read. There is no crusade you must fight. There is no Templar you must convince. There is no trade you must take. There is nothing but the faith you have in yourself and the hope that you might be lucky enough with the right idea, at the right time to present that work to the right person.

Myself, I was happy to create this imagery in my head where I could run off with the producer who once was kind enough to advise me. This idea of “once I go to work for him, everything will be solved” was both a figment of my immaturity as it was exemplary of my inability to think rationally in a dream state. If the chance to work for him actually presented itself; the chance to escape through that red little sports car, the reality is that I would still be one accident away from not being happy again.

Our refusal to be happy with the present, to constantly seek justification for some hypothetical happy ending future has given us everything from an abundance of Hollywood Twitter gurus to irrational thinking that clouds the present. There is no guarantee for a happy ending. Whether your heaven is Hollywood or a trip to France in an Alfa Romeo with your lover, know that there is no guarantee for that future unless you can find happiness today.

The only way you can find happiness today is to live in the present, to escape contempt and to stop looking for justification for how to live your own life.

WallStCA

Wall Street California

When Robin Williams took his own life ending what was perhaps one of the most celebrated careers in Hollywood history, the world stopped and took notice of Williams and his incredibly diverse body of work. It pained many to know that someone who had such a profound influence on so many lives through his acting in many different genres was no more. It was worldwide heartbreak.

Recalling Robin Williams body of work was nostalgic for many. It was a period in Hollywood where creative expression was at its best and where Williams was one of the best at it. What died with Robin Williams was not only a beautiful soul capable of touching so many but a creative spirit that showed audiences worldwide how powerful unique expression through cinema could be.

The cinema of the Robin Williams era has died too.

In its place: expensive sequels, remakes, comic book adaptations and franchises. Put differently, tent poles and just about ONLY expensive tent poles. And before you rush to blame Hollywood for its lack of creativity, you’re better off looking at those who remain ultimately responsible: Wall Street.

Movie making has always been a risky business requiring a lot of up front financing and financial expertise. Hollywood has always relied on the investor class, hedge funds and banking institutions for capital arrangements. However in the past the two arenas remained separate. The creatives made decisions about content, the investors made decisions about how to leverage their financing arrangements to support their vision.

Today the lines have become blurred, as the investor class like Sony’s Daniel Loeb take an increasingly active approach to what does and does not get made and how the studios are run.

Wall Street bankers have taken over the creative reigns through the threat of scissoring the purse strings.

After the recession, financing became much tighter and as a result Hollywood struggled to fund its projects. Reeling from the losses related to mortgages and toxic debt securities many in finance were looking for a new gig. The promise of large returns with a low tax rate was very attractive to investors and so they began pouring their money into financing arrangements with filmmakers. One of the best examples of this being Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures and its former relationship with Warner Brothers (now Universal).

Thomas Tull, once a former finance professional and tax services executive is now a Hollywood power player. While Mr. Tull’s Blockbusters tend to be of quality, they’re all Blockbusters, there’s no middle ground. Tull’s success suddenly became the road-map everyone wanted to follow. After a decade or so of billion dollar grossing films, it’s all anybody wanted to make. The smaller properties were just not going to continue pushing the studios earnings, and consequentially their Wall Street overlords profits higher. Everything had to make ridiculous money or no one wanted to fund it.

The only motivation by these folks is increasing the bottom line. While that has always been the case, it is taken to its logical extreme. They have begun to make creative decisions in an extremely myopic fashion and that has in turn led to the current state of affairs. Studios have been re-arranged, entire departments shut, major players fired and the release slate squeezed. Most resources are spent on large comic book properties and established franchises leaving few dollars left for original properties. If an original does get made, it gets made for very little and the marketing budget is usually squeezed because of limited resources for riskier ventures.

Wall Street doesn’t even care so much whether Americans go and see the films they fund as long as China does. International Box Office has never been more important. Hollywood doesn’t make movies for Americans any more. They would rather have the most homogenous project possible to export so as to not suffer translation issues. Explosions need no translations, complex story does. Homogeneity reduces cultural bias and view points and has the tendency to please just about everyone because nobodies sensibilities are offended.

Take Robin Williams THE BIRDCAGE for instance. The film routinely took pot shots at the religious prejudice of the Right Wing of American politics. Today Wall Street decision makers could see offending the Right Wing as leaving money on the table. If they are offended then you will get bad word of mouth in that community, controversy, a  Bill O’Reilly moral crusade and most importantly as a result: less money. The concept of a uniquely American sense of humor also does not bode well for international sales. China isn’t going to get jokes about Jed Bush. They also despise homosexuality, so that’s a negative right off the bat for cultural exportation.

In the current risk adverse climate of Hollywood, a film like THE BIRDCAGE would never get made. That is problematic because what that also says is, “we don’t care about having the next Robin Williams.” It additionally says they do not care about diversity. They want as little risk as possible. And this business plan has worked brilliantly so far.

The investment banking culture is pervasive. And if you know anything about days of trading losses this past year for major banks like JP Morgan (hint: zero), you can imagine how they feel about looser movies. As a result they have made the current state of affairs only about winners. Where tent pole earnings used to off-set risk for smaller projects, they are now the only sort of film in existence.

The current culture of business figures that if folks want originality, they can watch TV or finance it themselves. In fact most original properties distributed by the major studios were independently financed and made outside the system. This strategy has led to a decline in ticket sales in North America, but as long as the money keeps pouring in from abroad, things are unlikely to change.

Algorithms are more likely to determine what you see on screen than a creative assessing the quality of a project. Just about every aspect of Wall street has been brought to Sunset Boulevard down to the computers that make decisions.

The only people that are happy with this are those counting the money. I don’t think you can find me one creative who thinks the current state of affairs is a good thing for Hollywood. People didn’t get into this business to have a computer tell them what a good movie is. Creative people know what’s best and what people want to see but Wall Street won’t let them make decisions.

My philosophy is as follows: stop letting these carpet baggers run the industry into the ground. Because just like they did with every industry before, they will crash it into the ground and eject with a golden parachute while the rest of the industry is left to sift through the wreckage. The current model of blockbuster or bust is absolutely unsustainable, just like the housing bubble was.

Creative industries will always come with risk no matter how many computers say otherwise. We need to again embrace creative expression at its best, the sort of films that made us smile, like Robin Williams films did. Williams remains popular to this day as a legend because of the characters and worlds he was a part of, they were all memorable. Today everything suffers from sameness where one white guy looks just like the other white guys and where women and people of color have little role at all in our films. 300 explosions later and you can barely recall any degree of substance of what you just saw.

Kick the carpet baggers out! If they don’t like what they’re investing in, they can invest elsewhere. Creatives need to run the show, not Wall Street. And with every Wall Street carpet bagger that leaves, there will be money to follow because everyone wants to be a part of show business.

Let’s make it again about the business of show, because right now it has became the business of Wall Street. And it is not Wall Street and their paint by numbers filmmaking that wll bring this world the next Robbin Williams. Time to take the industry back to people who know it, throw the carpet baggers out because it’s Hollywood, California not Wall Street, California.

Is Persistence Always Key? The Biggest Mistake Made by Young Creative Professionals

Being too persistent is the biggest mistake young folks trying to break into the creative industries make. Every young creative dreams of the day they will work for their professional influence. For some, that influence is a major player unlikely to ever exchange words with them. For others, that player may be more accessible and thus the opportunity to be persistent for a chance is born. This is that kind of a story, and it serves as an important lesson on how to be persistent while not being too persistent, potentially ruining your chances with that person.

HE STOOD BEFORE AN AUDITORIUM of thousands of young kids about to graduate college, all eager to hear what such a successful member of the alumni community had to say. Sure his name may not carry much significance outside industry circles, but his professional title carries significance to all.

He is a Hollywood Producer.

I listened to his speech shortly after its publication online not because I had any connection to the school, but because I had long considered him to be a major professional influence in spite of being a lesser known player at large. He worked many years for a favorite production company of mine, whose films I grew up watching. After producing one of my favorite films, I discovered his inspiring rise to CEO at a young age which was profiled in an industry article. It was at that time during high school I began to closely follow his career.

Back to that auditorium, a paraphrased out-take from that day.

“I called him ten times, at least. I knew I wanted to work for his company. He must’ve thought, ‘who is this crazy kid that keeps calling me from the mountain west?’ He told me if I wanted the job that I had to come to NY. So I did, I bet he never expected me to actually show up — and so I got the job.”

The kids were amazed at his persistence. Not giving up after first being brushed off certainly paid off for him. Hundreds of those young impressionable graduates likely formed the same conclusion, “If I am persistent, if I continuously reach and out to try to prove my worth, I will get the job too!”

That’s the flawed assumption made by many young folks — even by the producer himself, admittedly: That if you repeatedly advertise your worth, you will get the reward. What is the reward? The chance to work for someone you admire or a company you really like.

So how do you avoid making mistakes of being too persistent? By understanding the other’s POV and being persistent within reason.

We’ll start with my POV, that of the young professional eager to work for their professional influence.

I have a somewhat interesting relationship with the producer in question which began a few years prior to his aforementioned speech. At first, I pissed him off by foolishly trying to message him right out of college. I kept messaging him from time to time in spite of no longer hearing a reply. I greatly embarrassed myself, and soon realized there was no way I’d have a shot with him.

A year later I began a Twitter account with a humorous slant, parodying his latest film. It gained a small but engaged following and that lead me to have contact with him through the pseudonym I created. He got to see my humor, shared appreciation for the same music and guitar, in addition to what on the surface appeared to be my very laid back, enjoyable personality. He got to see the real me. An online friendship began in spite of him figuring out my actual identity.

We put the past behind us, or so it seemed.

That second chance at a first impression only went so far when he refused to meet me for coffee while in NY for his premiere. “You’re funny for sure, but you might be insane,” he said. I was hurt. I felt that it was an unfair criticism in lieu of our online conversations and attempts to actually get to know a bit about one another. Yet, I respected his decision. In spite of knowing where the premiere would be held, and where the above-line folks were staying, I did not try to run in to him. For the fact that I am not insane, and respect boundaries in spite of my enthusiasm, I did not even message him during the premiere or the after party, nor did I attempt to meet him against his will.

His film unfortunately did not do well. In spite of that, we would continue to sporadically keep in touch over the next year and a half. During that time he continued to encourage me as a writer. He began to assume an informal mentorship role. I would eventually write him a screenplay, my first ever, and in spite of giving him an inferior product, he encouraged me to write him another. I even asked if I could work for him on his next project, to which he said yes, and to reach out to him online. Most importantly, he stressed that I keep writing.

After a while I tried to encourage messages with him, but he would usually not reply. This left me feeling unwanted, ignored and undervalued. It hurt to know that I just wanted to talk like regular folks, to show I merely wished to keep in touch and perhaps talk more frequently. However as I began to work more in and around the business, I understood that we were not just regular folks. I was an aspiring writer, he a Hollywood producer. And so I would usually wait for him to say things to me. Those were the boundaries, ones which I would occasionally ignore.

Eventually he began to say less and less.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease we are told. Keep showing them you exist, or so goes the mind of the persistent go-getter.

Somewhere during waiting for his reply about my second script, I began to grow impatient. I engaged in tweets that would seemingly target him, and he would occasionally do the same in response to me. Where we would once message, we were now communicating through passive remarks online.  So began a sort of game-playing.

It culminated with my persistence again wearing thin.

“What’s wrong with you calling people names,” he asked, clearly exasperated and taking offense. I struggled to back-peddle. I wasn’t calling him an names, rather I was at the time of his message typing a follow up to my previous tweet to better place it in context. The damage had already been done. In a way, he was the microcosm of all that I was complaining about regarding the industry at large: the no by way of silence that makes any persistent and determined kid pull their hair out with frustration. And so I don’t blame him for being offended, I was indeed out of line.

Over the next hour things would deescalate as I explained my thought-process, and he sought to explain to me that I needed to do more to actually struggle and earn a path to success. He said if I go out there and give it my all, I would be successful. He told me I couldn’t wait on him, that I needed to go my own way.

That part I didn’t hear.

Over the next year I maintained this blog with him as a loyal reader. I would never hear from him again in the form of a message. We continued passive communication sporadically until he stopped tweeting altogether. And in spite of that he would still find creative ways to show me he was keeping tabs, even after he un-followed me on Twitter over a year later.

The likely truth about him un-following me? I needed to learn to take his advice and go my own way, to stop waiting on him. He hasn’t worked since his last film and most of his projects have stalled in development as far as I can tell. He doesn’t have opportunities now to the best of my knowledge and what I’ve heard from others who know him that seems a reasonable assumption. His producing partner has gone onto other projects, and the miniseries he was presumably developing seems to have never come to fruition.

Like many in Hollywood who are not working on the next super hero film, he finds himself on the industry sidelines. That can all very well change, but it’s time consuming to turn things around or begin work on a new project from scratch. Even he said to me when asking to work for him over the phone, “I may work tomorrow, I may work in a year or many years. It’s not predictable.”

Yet it’s natural, what I did. Everyone wants to work for their professional influence, but rarely do we think about how our enthusiasm may come across. I’ve written countless articles as to why I think I’d make a great assistant or employee in some capacity for him. I know I still would, and with the experience and connections I have made to this point, I believe that even more so today. But I don’t need to keep saying that.

And I certainly didn’t need to embarrass myself by exclaiming I find him attractive either. I don’t have romantic feelings for him, and would certainly not attempt to act inappropriately along those lines if we did meet. He’s attractive, however that has little bearing on anything. Ultimately my proclamation of any and all admiration was meant to be purely professional, and only intended as such. But it certainly may not have come across that way.

I just wanted to remain on the radar. When it comes down to competing for a chance to be hired in Hollywood, to quote my production mentor, “you need to always be at the forefront of their mind so they think of you.” At most I saw him as someone I could have a friendship with in addition to a professional relationship. I kept persistent not because I was crazy, or obsessed. I just wanted to continue to be at the forefront of their mind.

However I never considered his POV in the process of doing so.

His POV?

I likely made myself look desperate. It likely may have even made him feel put-off by me, even though he also probably knew I was harmless. To keep talking about someone might be flattering, but its also in a way showing that you’re inflexible and stubborn — hell bent on one outcome. While I have had more than good luck meeting other people in the business, I want to work for him most. However constantly talking about him looks desperate, even if I may have other options brewing.

I wasn’t doing this often, these proclamations of persistence, but collectively, I likely may have contributed to this possible POV of his.

Perhaps after realizing we both shared the same thyroid ailment, I recently waived for his attention more than I should have in hoping to maybe speak to him again; feeling lost about my situation, knowing he would understand. I was hopeful he’d give me some advice since he was kind enough to give other advice in the past.

Of course there was no reason to speak. It again likely looked desperate, even though career-wise I was actually doing well.It was not my intention to look desperate, but it was likely his reaction.

Alternately, maybe he does understand that I am not nuts, rather just a bit too brazen, opinionated and quick to speak. I think back to last April when he was clearly trying to passively get my attention when I was writing about philosophy of Space and Time: the nature of interpersonal relationships online.

The nature of our relationship is quite an odd one at that. On the one hand, I have crossed the line at times. At other points, he seems to show me he is willing to follow up every now and then.

To some degree I am not sure what he thinks.

The problem with being too persistent is that it is ultimately hard to gauge. And so ultimately one has to be mindful of the way their actions may come across, whether they have come across one way or not.

Conclusion

I am not alone. This happens virtually all the time in the business, so much so Mystery Creative went on a humorous rant about it. It really opened my eyes to the way I might have unfortunately come across. Kids cannot contain their enthusiasm for their professional influences in this business. It’s almost hard not to burst out with excitement to think that your professional influence finds that you’re smart and have a gift with language.

I know that I would never harm him, or if given the opportunity to work for him, invade his privacy or act out of emotion. It’s very easy to be taken out of context online and I believe that is partly what I am a victim of. However, I am also guilty of being too persistent at times.

Thankfully I have impressed other people on his level, and have not only gotten reads but met with a rep here in NY about possible management. Yet I continued of late to show him the various ways I continue to care about him, not realizing that I continued to cross lines and perhaps even look desperate. He knows I care. He’s long known I care, and that I would be very loyal to him and do whatever to have his back.

And if he wants to hire me in the future, he knows where to find me.

I finally realized that I crossed the line many times while not even realizing it. I wrote this story to hope that other young professionals don’t make the same mistakes. Of course most people are harmless, as I am. But unless you want to risk looking like those who are actually insane, don’t be an idiot like I was — always consider how you might come across to others, even beyond your professional influence(s).

Perhaps he may take solace in the fact that I acknowledge and truly apologize for my behavior. Perhaps he may even forgive me and give me the chance that the record exec gave him many years before. I know if he did give me the chance to work for him, he wouldn’t regret it.

If he doesn’t forgive me, and he doesn’t give me a shot in any position with him, I will have at least come to understand why. Hopefully that won’t be the case. But I am prepared for it if it is. Don’t be too persistent. Because the only place it will get you is the label of professional desperation, or to use the Mystery Creative phrase “box full of badgers nuts.”

Don’t act like a box full of nutty badgers. Be sincere and kind. But also be mindful. Always.

Sincerely,

MK

 

 

 

 

 

World Cup

Sorry American Soccer Haters, Soccer is Finally Here to Stay!

World Cup

Many Americans more adept to watching uniquely American sports such as basketball, football and baseball will now have to contend with a new arrival: professional soccer. Much to the chagrin of the monolingual and culturally isolated, unlike in 1994, actual “football” is not going anywhere!

Nielsen Ratings showed that the World Cup Final in the United States had higher ratings than the NBA Finals, World Series and BCS College Football championship.

After the 1994 World Cup was held in the US, many pundits were predicting the soar in popularity of the sport. The newly launched MLS (Major League Soccer) debuted with ten professional teams playing out of American football stadiums in 1996. Unfortunately, the MLS lost $250 Million in its first five years of existence, and nearly went bankrupt. People were quickly predicting the downfall of the sport only years after predicting its future dominance.

Since the 2002 World Cup where the US Men’s National Team had a better than expected performance, the league has since expanded its reach and has become profitable. Several new teams were also added to the MLS. Additionally, in 1999, the Columbus Crew organization built the first stadium solely devoted to professional soccer in the United States. By 2011, the MLS had a better attendance record than both the NBA and the NHL with an average of 17,872 spectators.

Of course the league is not without its criticism, and coverage of the MLS still palls in comparison to its better domestically covered sports rivals, such as the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL. The MLS is also considered to be a much weaker league than its European club counterparts, with shorter seasons and less well-developed players overall. The shorter league means players have less endurance and stamina when compared to their European rivals, a criticism made by US Men’s coach, Jurgin Klinnsmann. Rarely if ever do American players compete with major teams in Europe apart from the MLS All Star members. The NCAA system also fails to provide the rigorous levels of development that many European club systems like Bayern Munich and other heavyweight clubs do. MLS has long been dubbed a retirement league for peak players on the decline, with notable MLS players from abroad including Beckham, Henry, David Villa and Kaka. If the MLS is to get bigger, many suggest we need to attract younger talent or develop better players on our own like many poorer South American clubs do. The lack of corporate sponsorship when compared to the European leagues or even the NFL does not do much to help give teams the financial freedom to develop in a more efficient manner.

Yet in spite of the several valid criticisms of the MLS, it does not do much to reduce demand for the popularity of soccer in the United States. As our world has become more connected online, many Americans have had the pleasure of discovering international club teams through online streaming services. Channels like Fox Soccer, debuting in 2006, attempted to cater to this widening audience of soccer enthusiasts looking to support international heavy weights domestically. Still only certain games were made available on the network, and the Champions League failed to generate the kind of enthusiasm here as it has done abroad, especially lacking American participation. Fox Soccer ceased all operations as a network in 2013. However, soccer fans still wouldn’t stop pushing for a change in availability of their favorite sport.

In 2013, NBC Sports Network announced it would carry every English Premier League game live on air. The English Premier League is the most popular European soccer league, attracting some of the worlds best talent, reaching 98% of the world beyond England. Despite Fox Soccer going defunct, the NBC move was a stunning success. The NBC Sports Network, in spite of the time difference, got people out of bed watching English soccer at 7:30 AM on the Eastern seaboard, and as early as 4:30 AM in the Pacific Coast market. It doesn’t often interfere with American sports broadcast locally in the afternoon and evening, providing the perfect filler from a network perspective. Viewership for the final day of the Premier League season was rated by Nielsen to be an average of 4.9 million viewers, a stunning 172% increase. Overall, NBCSN saw viewership of the Premier League across the season go from 13.1 Million on ESPN and Fox Soccer in 2011-12 to an average of 31.5 million viewers in 2013-14.

While the MLS has a long way to go to attract the sort of talent necessary to hold American interest in teams here, international clubs and teams have continued to fuel soccer’s growth in the US. Many cities and regions in the US have local supporter clubs for teams based abroad. Video game FIFA 13 saw a 42% sales increase in the US alone from the year 2012. With the plethora of international talent, and ultimate team play using FIFA players, American’s were further introduced to more star players outside the MLS. FIFA 14 continued the sports dominance virtually, rated one of the best games for the new console systems with an average rating of 9.2/10 by Xbox Magazine. Merchandise continues to fly off the shelves, with major US sports retailer Modells routinely failing to restock enough shirts and jersey’s to satisfy demands during the World Cup. Enrollment in local youth leagues has continued to rise across suburbs throughout the nation and amateur leagues in major cities like New York have seen a large increase in player interest among adults.

It may have taken 20 years since 1994, but soccer will only continue to grow here. The seed was planted and watered through several years of international play in addition to the exposure to new teams and markets with the advent of international streaming services and new cable TV options. The influx of Latin American immigration in certain key communities has also largely contributed to the sports rise in popularity domestically in spite of continued lack of interest in more rural areas of the nation. Even the Euro tournament in between the World Cup has garnered significantly more interest in the US despite the absence of domestic players. And so whether or not the MLS improves, the US has gotten its taste of the world’s game. And while the NFL may continue to dominate domestically because of the bible belt and beyond, real football will only continue to grow in popularity domestically. The world’s game is finally here to stay.

 

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