|Individually, the tragedy of the studio world is a pie gets split in a lot of ways, but collectively, there’s clearly one generation, and one clique of that can claim sole and complete credit for everything that has happened to this place in the past quarter century.
Surveying the blind alley the film business has walked itself down, sometimes it pays to take a glance at who is driving this train.
Especially if the folks in the locomotive are the same ones who have been driving it off the cliff in slow motion for 25 years now.
One might think in this moment of semi-meltdown, when the question is on the table whether this will be the last generation of humanity who pays money to see movies in theaters, the industry would be turning for leadership to people in touch with the film-goers of tomorrow, perhaps even people who were filmgoers of tomorrow not that long ago.
But of course no one who knows Hollywood would ever think that. Sometime in the 1990’s a cadre of Baby Boomers were handed the keys to the executive washroom, and it’s only out of their cold dead hands that the industry’s going to get them back.
So I took a quick glance around the studio world to see how generational change is coming along in these crazy times. Here’s a peek at most of the folks running film today, and their ages, as best I can tell them. Note: These estimates are available on the best dates available so might be off a digit or two if they’ve already had a birthday this year or something.
Robert Iger – 67
Alan Horn – 74
John Lasseter – 60
Kathleen Kennedy – 64
Kevin Feige – 45
Kevin Tsujihara – 52
Toby Emmerich – 54
Stacey Snider – 56
Emma Watts – 47
Jim Gianopulos – 65
Wyck Godfrey- 49
Tom Rothman – 62
Sanford Panitch – 51
Jeff Shell – 51
Donna Langely – 49
And just to take a glance at the agency world: you’ve got Richard Lovett (57), Kevin Huvane (58), Brian Lourd (56), Ari Emmanuel (56), Patrick Whitsell (51) , Jeremy Zimmer (59) and Chris Silbermann (50). (Notice anything besides age everyone on that list has in common?)
Well, it’s an old person’s business you know. You need decades of water under the bridge and hard-won experience in the boardroom before you’re ready to make decisions about green lighting comic book films. This isn’t alkaline batteries we’re making! This is entertainment! You can’t trust a bunch of children with that?
Interesting to note also, that the youngest name on this list also probably is the individual in Hollywood responsible for the most pure success of the past decade. But why take any lesson from that?
It wasn’t always so. Hollywood once viewed the creative arts as a natural place for wunderkinds. The most celebrated producer of Hollywood’s golden age, Irving Thalberg, was only 37 when he died. Robert Evans could barely order a legal drink when he was running a studio. A wild-eyed young hooligan like Michael Eisner could once become President of Paramount Pictures at 34 and CEO of Disney at 42.
More to the point, it wasn’t this way when this generation took the wheel. When the baby boom clique who runs Hollywood today ascended to the top jobs in the 1990’s, making way for young up was de rigueur in the entertainment industry, and to get there, plenty of people were willing to take chances on and mentor them. Somehow on their watch that that tradition seems to have been set aside.
IP Bob himself, was running a major network (in a day when that meant something) at all of 43. Stacey Snider became CEO of Universal at 38. Kathleen Kennedy was running Amblin at 28, John Lasseter Pixar at 29. Donna Langley became Uni’s head of production at 32. Back in the 90’s Bob Daly and Terry Semel were halfway through their run at the head of Warners, which they had taken over when they were 45 and 38 respectively. Amy Pascal took over Columbia at 41.
Mike Ovitz stepped away at age 49 from the agency he had founded at age 29 and taken to the very pinnacle of Hollywood power, and handed the keys over to a bunch of guys in the early to mid 30’s. Which no one thought was odd at all, and which they made out just fine. Arch-rival Ari Emmanuel was part of the team who formed Endeavor when he was all of 34. Ovitz, meanwhile, if he went to Disney today at the age when he did, would be one of the very youngest Film Poohbahs at the monthly Film Poohbahs pub crawl. He’d only have Emma Watts, Wyck Godfrey and Kevin Feige to talk to him at the kids table of the wacky mid-to-late 40 somethings.
And Ovitz followed Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney, who had taken over the film division when he was 34, and went on to co-found Dreamworks when he was 44.
When the going gets rocky, people fall back on their comfort zones. For the Boomer Dictators, comfort is all about giant corporate products, nothing surprising, everything as manageable as the course of a great ocean liner, when overseen by the right experienced crew.
Of course, these are placid times, so a bit of steady-as-she goes complacency is exactly what we need. It’s hard to imagine what the children of the tech world, as they prepare to devour us whole, must be thinking as they gaze across the battlefield at the geriatric army we’ve sent to take them on. Somehow I don’t think we’re scaring them.