The Mouse That Roared – The Sequel

Another “official” position paper has been “leaked” by Disney executives, this one urging all Disney employees to take an 88% pay cut to further chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg’s economy drive.

Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO otherwise referred to in the memo as “our great and noble leader,” reduced his earnings from stock and salary to a “paltry” $11 million this year, down from $50 million last year – an example for other Disney employees, the memo stated.

While last week’s memo was the real thing, this week’s followup was a parody of the Katzenberg edict, reportedly written by Disney staff writers. The bogus memo covers the same terrain as the first memo – the need to economize, the incursion of the Japanese, the manipulation of talent – but the camera angle in take 2 is slightly more skewed.

Disney executives declined comment on the parody, portions of which follow:

THE PROBLEM

This is an internal memo, not to be read by anyone else but myself, and the few top executives to whom it is distributed. No one else should ever hear about it. Really! I mean it! Not even the other studios, agents, actors and executives who pay talent too much.

This country faces some of the worst economic and political conditions imaginable. Our streets are filled with the homeless, the uneducated; our troops face the constant threat of chemical weapons, Scud missiles and repeated shell fire; and attendance at our parks is down, way down.

That’s the bad news. Now the good news. We intend to save money paying our employees even less. Our underlying philosophy of cheapness lends itself especially well to lean times.

Interestingly, even if the economic outlook were rosy, I believe we at Disney would still find a way to justify our conservative employee payment plan.

This will be a company-wide effort, without exception. Our great and noble leader, Michael Eisner himself, took home a paltry $11 million in stock and salary this year, down from last year’s haul of over $50 million. That’s an 88% sacrifice!

All that I’m asking is that each of you make the same sacrifice that Michael Eisner has made. By reducing employees’ salaries 88% we will establish a platform to launch the next round of good times.

The time has come to get back to our roots. If we remain on our present course, there will be the certainty of calamitous failure, as we will inevitably come to produce our own “Harlem Nights” or “Casualties Of War” or “Days Of Thunder”… and then have to dig ourselves out from under the rubble.

That is why in the last few months we have been working hard to sign the likes of Eddie Murphy, and have entered into agreements with Dawn Steel, and Simpson and Bruckheimer. By assembling the brightest talent at bargain prices, we can assure the quality that the American public deserves with driving and imaginative pictures that only these calculating minds can generate.

Wall Street claims that the industry is recession-proof. This notion originated during the Great Depression. People wanted escape and the movies offered it cheap – 10&cents; a ticket, or the cost of a loaf of bread. The total cost to a family of four for a movie today can exceed $40.

On the other hand, a video can be rented for as little as 50&cents;. I would like to see every starving family in America shell out their last few dollars for one of our movies, rather than buy a loaf of bread, but this is probably not realistic.

This may be a reason to rethink our approach to homevideo. Perhaps we should charge $1 million per rental title. That way, only the nations’ wealthiest and most respected individuals can see our movies, and we’ll make a fortune. One million dollars – only two million loaves of bread per person – would be a drop in the bucket to the rich and famous. Let the others eat cake.

Especially during these economic hard times, we must fool the public’s expectations… We must really put one over on them (see “Dick Tracy” section below).

I have written this memo in hopes of pointing out the real problem. As executives, our main concern is stock options. In order to make any real money, we need the price of stock to increase. For the stock to increase, we need our earnings to increase. We need to sell the employees on the idea of magic (a kind of voodoo economics).

Magic is the key. We should make them believe that they are producing a product limited only by their imaginations, and that if they don’t like their salaries, there will always be someone who will risk their health to try and take their place.

A SOLUTION

The pay cuts that I am asking are voluntary, and there will be no consequences to any employees beyond losing their jobs.

In writing this, I take some comfort in knowing that I am preaching to the already converted.

This memo is intended to be a working document, a reference guide not unlike the Ten Commandments, which will help us more effectively resist temptation. You may wish to tape it to your refrigerator door in the event you become hungry.

I AM KING

In the dizzying world of moviemaking, we must not be distracted from one fundamental concept: I am king. Stars, directors, writers, hardware, special effects, new sound systems… all of these have a role to play in the success of a film, but they must all serve as humble subjects to my supreme rule.

I have trouble sleeping when I think that in today’s market, some brilliant but poor writer might hit a jackpot with a spec script and make more than I did this quarter.

In a world where we can come up with an idea from someone who is making peanuts working for us, hire a starving writer for next to nothing to rewrite (dangle a “chance to direct” carrot in front of his nose, hee hee hee) and then make a bundle, it is hard to imagine that our sucker competitors actually buy spec scripts. (Remember, show this memo to no one!)

It’s our job to find the great idea, then mangle it and sugarize it, until it has a shot at appealing to the lowest common denominator of our society.

It’s not easy.

But whoever said it was.

This is why we should be aggressive on all fronts – at the dining table with major stars, at the comedy clubs and at missions, searching for starving future stars, and at the back door of the Betty Ford Clinic with a pen and contract in hand.

One reason for our quick and early system upon arriving at Disney was that we set up a “plantation” type system with our writers, securing them longterm contracts.

Surprisingly, one-by-one, these writers found the “freedom train” and now our barn is empty. We should fill it again.

I know that many will argue that this just isn’t feasible anymore. All this means is that it will be tougher.

The future bigtime writers are out there and would be grateful just to get a square meal at our commissary. To find them, we have to dig deeper, turn over more small rocks, cheating, crawling, and scheming… to get there first.

NOT JUST FOR KIDS

The great thing about this company is that every few years we can make a bundle by relying on the brilliance of someone else, Walt Disney. We just re-release all his animated movies. The money helps cover the cost of the failures which we produce on a more regular basis. Our Disney franchise is of incomparable value.

A “family movie” means that we can produce a real dud, cut out the four-letter words and slap the name Disney on it. We almost released “Dick Tracy” as such a picture, but luckily realized at the last minute that Madonna’s breasts had a “floor” audience.

If the movie is really distasteful, we can call it a Touchstone or Hollywood Picture and no one is the wiser. Remember “An Innocent Man” where Tom Selleck has to fight off a disgruntled homosexual prison enemy with a chard of glass? Now there’s a picture we knew was a Touchstone all the way.

When we consider our roots, we should keep in mind the deep roots of this company which earned such enormous trust from the general public. Walt made movies for the kid that exists in each and every one of us.

Since Disney is not willing to offer talent top dollar, we can offer something no less tangible – a genuine concern for their careers.

Look at “Turner & Hooch” for example. We got the Fonz to direct the film for a song, and when we didn’t like the way it was going, we replaced him immediately. Now that Henry Winkler is not associated with that film, he may actually work again – all because of our genuine concern.

We offer all the creative freedom in the world, as long as you produce what we think the public will buy… and it doesn’t cost extra. We need to produce story driven movies that don’t involve a lot of “moving around or traveling” which only confuses the viewer anyway.

BETTING ON TALENT

We’ve made a career out of scaring talented people into thinking that their careers were over without us. Now that the unappreciative deadbeats are famous again, they expect some sort of “celebrity surcharge.” Free passes to Disneyland should cover it (with mileage reimbursement).

The concept of “bankable star” maintains that there are some stars whose very presence guarantees a certain level of boxoffice performance. I think the public could care less who is in a picture as long as the picture offers them the mindless fun they bargained for. Does the public really know the difference between a De Niro and a DeFazio? Don’t bet on it.

Every one of us was once one of the little guys trying to get noticed. Let’s keep our doors open, but the studio gate closed!

TEQUILA SUNRISE ON MEXICANS AND OTHER MONGREL RACES

The people who make hardware have been buying up Hollywood.

Let’s calm down.

At least the Japanese are a basically well-mannered group, unlike other groups that could be worse. They’re serving a useful purpose. They just paid us $6 million to finance movies which they don’t have the capacity to understand or enjoy!

The Japanese are getting into a business that is to some extent outside of their cultural context. Film viewing requires that one be able to see over the seat in front of them for one thing (I myself, sit on a pillow).

Second, Japanese are emotionless people with no capacity or stomach for the craziness of this business. They do offer some nifty gadgets and an occasional good idea. We are interested in acquiring the rights to the dull film “Ran” and developing an American version with more action (Note to file: possible vehicle for Ernest.)

But as I said earlier, things could be worse. What if other minorities had the money to get involved. Can you imagine a film industry run by the Mexican or Latino community? How much work would get done with Mexicans involved? We’d all be sitting around eating takeout from the “Bell” and swishing it down with a Tecate.

GREED

And, as long as I’m making rules, here’s just one more: Everyone here should feel the greed of making movies.

Greed is the only word that can explain why one could be made to read 10 to 15 scripts per weekend for the chance of advancing in the Company. Greed is the only word that can explain how we can force employees to work 60-hour weeks at the studio, paying them the lowest salaries of any major studio, while taking home incredible salaries ourselves.

Greed, however, misdirected, is the only word that can explain why otherwise rational individuals could get so caught up in the blockbuster mania that has engulfed our industry to such lemminglike effect.

So, in writing this memo, I’ve been able to rationalize the importance of us making more money during war-torn recessionary times, pointing out the specialness of what we do. Let’s not be afraid to admit to others and to ourselves, up front and with greed… that we love what we’ve become.

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