Special Dispatch: The Same Monster
You'll Never Doordash Lunch in This Town Again
Whether or not movies come roaring back, we can look at COVID as the final wrecking ball through the Privileged Exemption-based Lifestyle (PEL) that Hollywood has enjoyed for a hundred years.
What the PEL meant for this past century was that the grandees of Hollywood—the stars, the agents, the executives—could enjoy a standard of living unparalleled in human history while granting themselves an exemption from all other earth-bound standards of personal and business behavior.
Right now, both sides of that equation are in jeopardy as the business itself teeters from successive waves of disruption, not to mention a yearlong shutdown, while on the other end, The People have seemingly lost their sense of humor about the need for professionals in a creative business to act like monsters in every way.
The wrecking balls to the PEL started coming with the hashtag uprisings—MeToo, OscarsSoWhite—and have continued on to Dave Chappelle's extraordinary monologue on his star-crossed dealings with Viacom.
What makes Chappelle's slow-burn rumination so unusual is that you've got here a performer at the peak of his powers, publicly outing the business practices of a pillar of the corporate community, and there is nothing they can do to him. Not a thing. This dust-up will only enhance his status with his audience and, given his prominence, any streamer would still kill to be in business with him.
But again, this shows why Netflix continues to run circles around Hollywood as a matter of pure adroitness. Just as Chappelle refers to, having someone who wasn't there 20 years ago, let alone 100 years ago, who isn't deeply, culturally at the DNA level resistant to fighting tooth and nail any change to The Way We Do Business, allows them to pick up the phone and say, Yeah, we don't like that. Take it down.
There was a time when if an actor on one studio's payroll made a fuss about his contract of yore at another studio, his current employer would've taken him aside and had a little conversation about how things work around here and why are you jeopardizing the launch of your new season carrying on about your personal, etc etc. Netflix does not play that game. And now it's going to be a lot harder for anyone else to either.
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Suddenly Netflix has made one of its biggest stars happy, and it look like the good guys in a battle for justice. While at Viacom no doubt, the 29th round of meetings about this fiasco has just kicked off.
As for the merits of this . . . in the early days of Hollywood when stars were all contract players and the studios owned 100% of everything forever and always, they were signed at ridiculously small fees, but once one of them broke out, those contracts were routinely renegotiated.
This was a revenue stream that wasn't even a spec on the horizon when a young Chappelle signed his contract. So Viacom could say, yeah, we didn't see this coming, so let's figure out a formula to cut you in on this new windfall. Or it could say, in the spirit of the PEL, we've got a contract. We own the studio. What the hell are you going to do about it?
Until very recently the answer would've been: accept your fate or destroy your career taking it on. This applied to business deals, systemic racism, and the behavior of the poohbahs across the board. What the hell are you going to do about it?
But without warning, the tables have turned. Talent, or aggrieved parties in general, with the winds of social media on their side, can take their case to the public and turn to a company like Viacom and say, What the hell are you going to do about it?
A few data points from just this very this week:
• A furor erupted over the revelation that production on She's All That had shut down a COVID testing site at Union Station to film this critically important remake.
• Apparently in the midst of the pandemic, SAG-AFTRA decided "no longer allowing actors 65 years and older who vested their pensions to count their earnings from residuals in the annual income threshold for maintaining health insurance benefits. Also eliminated was the so-called “age and service” criterion, which allowed actors over 40 with a decade of credits to qualify for coverage at a reduced level of $13,000 in annual earnings."
That is to say, in the midst of a pandemic they changed the rules to kick their most members who were most vulnerable to said pandemic off the insurance plan.
• A review of spending by Time's Up, the high-profile, universally ballyhooed advocacy group revealed that—surprise, surprise—the huge bulk of the money raised went to, in the way of all Hollywood charities, salaries and overhead, with a relative pittance trickling down to defending harassment victims.
• I’ve heard a tale of a very special in person celebratory lunch in honor of a major executive held on a studio lot in the last couple weeks. More to come on that I hope..
Five years ago, these things would've rated a mention, and if reported on at all, would have faded beneath the seas in a heartbeat. All just the Way We Do Business in the PEL.
Today, if you haven't noticed, no one out there is much in the mood for fantastically rich grandees to try a How Dare You!
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