Does Hollywood need saving? On one level, Hollywood-produced entertainments (aka content) has never been more widely seen and enjoyed.
On another, everything seems on the brink of absolutely falling apart. In many ways, Hollywood has been the petri dish for the problems that have pushed America to the edge today, and our collapse has got a couple of years head start on the country's.
Way back two years ago, the entire town was in terror over the rise of streaming with its new (and completely unstable) financial models and culty techno ways of relating to the creative side. Plus there was the theatrical decline, competition from the internet, piracy, new international producers, the burgeoning collapse of the bundle, continuing evidence that a generation or two were turning away from movies and maybe even TV shows and we might never get them back. All of which already had everyone in a state of terror and confusion.
Then on top of that, we got the Harvey revelations, the Me Too uprising, and the first time the moguls were held accountable for their behavior in Hollywood history. Then there was the full blown rise of the Great Streaming War which everyone had to go all in on, despite no clear answer to the notion that we were racing over a cliff. The disappearance of one of Hollywood's six legacy studios. Constant social-media fueled upheaval over matters both giant and puny. An international plague that hit not only our ability to show films but our ability to make them, as well as crippling many other ways our great diversified studios could make money. And finally the Black Lives Matter moment, bringing attention to Hollywood's dismal record on racial matters, on camera and off.
So taken all together, what do you call that? A heart attack wrapped inside a nervous breakdown? In any event, it's enough that the question—can Hollywood really make it through all this? —is not just academic anymore.
When an industry that includes all of the nation's talent is unable to find someone willing to host its annual gala, you wouldn't be completely off in space to take that as a harbinger of some sort.
The Ankler has long made clear that we're not in the solutions business: We're very happy with our role of finger-pointing and name-calling, thank you very much. But as the news of the past few months has gone from ghastly to cataclysmic, we've felt a strange urge for a little change of tone. So here are our 50 suggestions to save Hollywood. Some are prosaic and common-sensical, others are the stuff of a wild man in the forest yelling at trees.
But given where we are, given the stakes are really that high, and given how deep we're stuck in the old clumsy-don't-make-waves way of doing business, it's a good moment to stop and seriously consider some wild and ridiculous ideas. We'll need a bunch of them probably to make things work.
Hire and promote people based on their track record not their resumes.
Establish a skunkworks at every studio with the mandate to do the things that are verboten everywhere else on the lot.
Put the skunkworks somewhere far off the lot so they aren’t sucked into by the bureaucratic inertia of the studios.
The studios should build a handful of theaters to test out what they can do with the movie-going experience, even if it’s just to push theaters to innovate.
Exhibition either needs to step up and start giving patrons a better experience than they can get at home or the studios need to buy up the chains. They don't need laser shows, but Disney and Universal should at least expect people seeing their movies be treated like they treat guests in their parks: clean cinemas, no giant status-stratified lines for popcorn. No ads before movies. Run theaters like startups desperately fighting to win an audience, not ancient monopolists collecting their vig.
Collect data and market to it, through theaters or social media or elsewhere. Every release should be required to leave a data legacy it passes along. Like every other industry.
Shut down The Oscars. This has gone far enough; we need to put this thing out of its misery before someone's industry gets really hurt. I'm not objecting to the new diversity in the ranks. That's overdue. But this behemoth of a show—originally intended to be an advertisement for Hollywood—has become an annual pageant of the industry at its worst: grandiose, boring, and unable to talk about anything but itself. It's the least entertaining pitch for entertainment that's ever been presented. If there's a real hunger for a night when we can scold ourselves, maybe we can do that off-camera, at a private dinner?
Let’s shut down the rest of the movie awards circuit, too, while we're at it.
Living wage for the trades that reflects the fluid nature of a shorter jobs world now and allows a healthy pool of skilled workers who can support themselves in this industry and not just do it as a hobby.
Put big giant safety nets around the use of child labor, far far, far more onerous than anything existing now. No child should be allowed to work more than three months a year is my suggestion. Let Hollywood send them home for a semi-normal life the other nine months.
Diversify studio leadership now. It's beyond embarrassing that this has to be said in 2020. Triple beyond that it has to be said to an industry that flaunts its progressive values every chance it gets. But to look at the state of diversity in our senior executive ranks, you would think this is still 1964. It's that bad. This isn't just a moral disgrace; it's a business disaster to have so many communities unrepresented in green-light-chain leadership at a time when the studios need desperately to win new audiences.
The major agencies are no better, or possibly even worse, in their leadership. Which helps explain the bottleneck of minority talent making it through the system. They need to diversify themselves pronto and not spend years commissioning studies and holding roundtables to discuss how they might some day consider looking at this.
The conversation about how to get more female directors working in Hollywood is now celebrating its 30th anniversary. Stop talking about it and studying it and start hiring.
Sweep out the generation running the studios and bring some people in who know something about how the modern world is consuming entertainment. There's barely a person under 50 in the leadership at all the studios, major and mini. Hollywood used to be a breeding ground for wunderkinds. Get some in there now.
Require people writing about Hollywood and editing publications about it to pass an exam proving minimal basic understanding of the workings of the industry before they can set words to paper.
Require executives to know their basic entertainment history and to have seen or watched something—anything—produced before the late 90's.
Turn off Twitter. Block it from LA County. The less Hollywood listens to it, the more it will serve the public instead of the angriest fringe of the angriest fringe.
Find a spectrum of mid-range punishments for bad behavior, past and present. Now we have one punishment only for everything from regrettable tweets to serial psychotic abuse: career death. Create a hierarchy of penalty boxes where the punishment can fit the crime. Suspensions, time outs, docking wages, community service. All very decent punishments for non-capital offenses.
We need the next Miramax. Not the evil parts but a studio that can regularly churn out films for grown-ups and get the world to see them on a massive scale, month after month. We've got some fine indie labels but no one with the sheer moxie and showmanship to captivate the public somehow to see a film like The English Patient. Someone's got to defend grown-up movie going if it's going to continue.
We need a king or queen. Unfortunately, in this terrified reactive business, nothing changes unless some bold visionaries grab the wheel to inspire everyone to fall in line and change. Witness the upheavals of the past few years and how little real change they've lead to. All through Hollywood history, we've had these leaders who carried the industry forward—Zukor, Mayer, Wasserman, Katzenberg, you name 'em. In the past few years, when we've needed one the most, no one has stepped up to the plate. The obvious candidate, Robert Iger, never showed much interest in ruling anything here beyond his company. Ted Sarandos would love to see himself in that role, but you can't very well be destroying half the business and leading it, too. Bring us the grandiose iron-fisted visionary the times demand.
Create one UIP type distribution company for Sony, Lionsgate, Paramount, and MGM so that they can cut overhead and maintain a theatrical distribution presence without owning a streaming service.
Dynamic pricing for movie tickets. Perennially discussed—and perennially waved aside as impossible. It's time to do some impossible things.
A new Studio System. If we're going to have these very few megalith streamers, who order and cut series and films at whim, setting up the Brand Name Showrunners as duchies beneath them, let's just go all in and set up a new studio system, where the talent and the crafts all become employees of one or another of the studios, are provided a living wage year-round and insure a base of competent craftspeople to create entertainment.
End the Bonus System. With today's minimal executive lifespans, the bonus system has become ultimate incentive structure for kicking the can down the road and ignoring big, looming problems. Replace it with rewarding bonuses five years after the fact when history reveals how one's reign panned out.
More movies. There has to be an alternative to consolidation on top of consolidation. The way we're going, we're going to have three studios that release five giant films a year apiece. That's going to be a lot of eggs in a very small number of mostly cape-clad baskets. That consolidation of entertainment choices is contrary to every other cultural and information trend on the map. Force studios to figure out how to make and distribute more movies. Twenty apiece for starters. If that doesn't work under the current system, smash the system.
While we're at it, we better start developing some other tentpole genres as a hedge against the bottom falling out on superheroes, and we better do it fast.
More choices and more films will also allow the studios to serve all sorts of audiences in all sorts of ways and not make the casting of every single superhero a life or death battle between every demographic group on the map.
Stop hiring broadcast executives to oversee streaming services.
Producers, stop trying to be executives. Executives, stop trying to be producers. (With a few exceptions.)
Bring back TV theme songs. It made the shows special.
Cut the number of broadcast executives in half. Their fear-driven notes have now become a circle of sharks-eating-their-own-tails death spiral. Better TV comes from fewer chefs is a formula pretty well proven at this point.
The WGA needs to stop talking like it's the vanguard of the revolution and start finding ways to make a life for the vast middle of its membership that is in danger of falling off a cliff.
Every professional in Hollywood should be required to spend an hour a week watching teenagers watch things and understand what is coming our way.
Draft a non-actor to be President of SAG-AFTRA.
Any new streaming service must explain who it's for and why they need it in five words or less.
COVID Insurance. Until everyone can be protected from possible catastrophic fallout, how can there ever be production at anything close to even half steam? If the studios want to get production moving again, they need to get people’s backs here, extreme as that sounds.
Outlaw back-end buyouts. You want your creators to have skin in the game and more than a fan's interest in the success of a project.
End conferences. The whole award-giving, tribute luncheon, charity person of the year circuit has become a monster. An extremely expensive monster draining funds that could be . . . making new films. Hollywood doesn't need more chances to congratulate itself. Get back to work.
Stop subsidizing the world’s greatest revolving junket racket, the international festival circuit. Spending a fortune to fly cast, crew and dozens of assorted hangers-on to try and grab a little bit of oxygen in the middle of these overfed clusterf-s, is not any kind of sane marketing.
No more passes for abusive and/or harassing behavior no matter what a genius anyone is or how important they are.
Trades cease and desist posting people’s announcements as “Exclusives.”
Any ground rules to an interview must be disclosed in the piece.
Burn the Prestige Playbook. No new network or streamer should be allowed to follow all of TV off the same cliff, trying to brand their company with a slow-burning, ponderous, eight-part elliptical drama.
Create an IP Tax. With each piece of IP they option, executives in film and television must spend the same amount buying original material.
Return agencies to their pre-Ovitz quasi-boutique incarnations based on servicing their clients who more than ever will need skilled hands to guide them through these treacherous waters.
All companies should voluntarily step up to pay lost wages to women who were run out of the business due to discriminatory or harassing behavior.
Electronic drive on’s. A 25-minute wait to get your ID checked against a list in 2020 is Hollywood passive aggressiveness + incompetence made manifest.
Pay all interns so that new blood can come into the ranks beyond the immediate privileged bubble.
Declare The Grill Chopped Salad the new Chopped Salad king, taking the cup away from La Scala.
Survive this terrible moment. Stay safe. Keep our employees and customers safe and be kind to each other.
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