Return of The Ankler
Old Mountain; Old Turkey; Ages of Fear
For more than half a year, since the outbreak, the dam has held and inner resources of denial proved strong enough to fight back the new reality. Calendars were reshuffled, quarterly losses were swallowed, auteur egos were assuaged. It was just a matter of riding it out for a few more weeks, and then we could revert right back to the good ol' completely screwed up way of doing things without missing a beat.
That might've worked for six months, but for a year, a year and a half, maybe two years—something was going to have to give, and you can feel it giving right now all over the locked-down town.
But what isn't changing one atom is, of course, our basic way of doing things. Even as the COVID era rages on, it's like it never happened.
Early in this moment, I had a glimmer of hope (when will I ever learn?) that if there was any good to come out of the disruption, that this moment of work stoppage would mean that a million new ideas would have space to take root and bloom; that the industry would take a fundamental look at the fact that the world is looking at entertainment in a completely new way and we need to somehow speak to that if we're going to be part of the lives of the rising generations in, say, five or ten years.
Instead what I'm seeing is a shuffling of the business relationships—playing with the windows, sending things direct to SVOD. Important changes perhaps, but still the same projects funneled to different delivery pipelines.
When you look at the rest of the culture, politics, say, you see how the Biden campaign is using this moment to completely re-engineer the political convention: a spectacle that for most of the world was a dreary slog they had long since tuned out. Where is the equivalent in entertainment? Where are we taking the things that no longer speak to much of anybody and turning them into something completely new and meaningful?
I keep coming back to the fact that when you consider how different notions of entertainment are to people under 30, the folks running our studios are just not the ones to speak to that. At a moment when we've never more needed a sense of youth, vigor, and cultural relevance, let's just look at the ages of the people running the film industry.
I took a quick peek at the studio heads, their corporate bosses, and the heads of production (more or less, that title can vary.) Disclaimer: These ages might off a year; exact birthdays are hard to find for some.
Corporate Boss: Robert Iger, 69
Robert Chapek, 60
Studio Chief: Alan Horn, 77
Production Honcho: Sean Bailey, 50
Corporate Boss: Jeff Shell, 54
Studio Chief: Donna Langley, 51
Production Honcho: Peter Cramer, 52
Corporate Boss: Ann Sarnoff, 57
Studio Chief: Toby Emmerich, 56
Production Honcho: Courtenay Valenti, 57
Corporate Boss: Tony Vinciquerra, 66
Studio Chief: Tom Rothman, 66
Production Honcho: Sanford Panitch, 52
Corporate Boss: Bob Bakish, 57
Studio Chief: Jim Gianopolus, 68
Production Honcho: Emma Watts, 50
So at a time when the studios really, really (x 1000) need to understand how a new generation (or two or three) raised with different sources of information consumes their culture, not only don't they have anyone in their 20's in a significant position of power in the entire film industry, but we don't have anyone in their 30's, and as far as the top leadership goes, we don't have anyone in their 40's either.
Take a look around at the major divisions, and you'll find a handful of chiefs still clinging to their 40's—Kevin Feige, Jennifer Lee, and Richard Brener come to mind— but there are not many, and none any younger than that.
The tragedy is that this is a business that has always valued and given a lot of power to the energy of youth in the creative process. Irving Thalberg was effectively running Universal at 23 and then head of production at the biggest studio in the world when he was 26. Daryl Zanuck become head of production for Warners at 29. On through the ages . . . David O. Selznick willed Gone with the Wind into existence in his 30's. Robert Evans took the reins at Paramount when he was 36. On down to our own times: Sherry Lansing was head of production at Fox at 35. Jeffrey Katzenberg became President of Paramount when he was 31, and went to Disney when he was 34. Michael Deluca became head of Production at New Line in his early 20's.
All of which would be considered insanely successful turns at the wheel.
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