The death of Steve Jobs was met with a genuine outpouring of grief in the entertainment industry.
But I suspect that in executive suites, a lot of that sadness is tempered with a quiet relief that Steve Jobs is not going to be running a company anymore.
Apple’s stunning run of success roughly coincides with Pixar’s, both under Jobs’s leadership, and if Hollywood isn’t embarrassed by those successes, it should be. Apple’s billions and Pixar’s Oscars stand as an ongoing indictment of Hollywood management.
I also suspect there are more than a few people who are quietly hoping Apple’s and Pixar’s winning streaks will be buried with Jobs, so they won’t have to explain anymore why they don’t do things they way Jobs did.
Jobs’s companies reject the corporate, marketing-driven, test-the-hell-out-of-it, give-the-audience-what-they-want ethos of modern Hollywood. Jobs believed in the primacy of the artist — or at least the artist’s vision. At Apple, that vision was always Jobs’s own: the technologist as auteur. He had a narrative in his head, as clearly as any master storyteller, of how Apple’s gadgets should work and how it should feel to use them. He was relentless in trying to bring that narrative to life, without recourse to focus groups or market research.
Consider how antithetical that is to Hollywood. Today’s tentpoles are rarely driven by any singular vision. Soulless, disposable pics are the norm now. Does anybody believe “Green Lantern” got into Warner’s pipeline because an artist — Martin Campbell, Greg Berlanti, anyone — had a Green Lantern story they felt absolutely must be told? It came out of Time-Warner’s corporate agenda, and it had the feel of something made by committee. The same could be said for most tentpoles.
Then there’s the testing process. Designer Ron Cobb once said to me that the problem with asking an audience what it wants is that what people really want is to be surprised, and people can’t tell you how to surprise them. Jobs always understood that. Can anybody imagine Apple handing a random audience a bunch of pre-release iPhones or iPads and then altering the device based on the comment cards?
Jobs himself was no filmmaker, so he knew better than to put himself directly in charge of movies. It’s no coincidence, though, that at Pixar it was directors — not development executives, not marketers, not even Jobs himself — who got final say on their pictures. Directors are still accountable, and Pixar has been known to fire them or drop their projects, but they can’t be overruled as long as they’re on the picture.
A lot of people have been uncomfortable watching Apple and Pixar rake in accolades and profits, and not a little resentful. A little of that showed when Disney topper Michael Eisner infamously predicted “Finding Nemo” wouldn’t be very good and would be a “reality check” for Pixar.
See, in Hollywood’s reality, what Apple and Pixar are doing shouldn’t work at all, and it certainly shouldn’t be more successful than showbiz’s way of doing things. But then, Jobs was famous for the “Reality Distortion Field” that helped him charm people into doing the impossible.
It was Jobs who gave Hollywood a reality check. But I doubt many people really heard it.
To borrow a phrase from Steve Jobs, there’s one more thing.
I’ve been asked if Andy Serkis can win an Oscar for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” I think that can happen as soon as the Acad’s Actors Branch gets comfortable honoring performances where you don’t see the actor’s face — in other words, maybe never.
Variety’s L.A. theater critic Bob Verini, who is also an Oscar maven par excellence, points out that the Acad has a history of recognizing movie pioneers with special Oscars, and that by now, Serkis’s body of work as a pioneer of performance capture acting (Gollum in “Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong” and now Caesar in “Apes”) makes him a more than worthy honoree.
So I’m calling on the Acad to join the 21st Century and recognize Serkis with a special Oscar. It’s not as nice as hearing “And the Oscar goes to…” but it would be a start.
Bits & Bytes:
• Visual effects pioneer Scott Ross will deliver the keynote at SMPTE’s 2011 Technical Conference & Exposition in Hollywood on Oct. 25. Ross is a co-founder of Digital Domain and former general manager of Industrial Light & Magic. … Createasphere’s Entertainment Technology Exposition will be held Nov. 2-3 at the Burbank Marriott.
• Cinedigm Digital Cinema installed 1,427 d-cinema systems in the Q2 of 2011, more than double its previous record of 642 installations in a quarter. Cinedigm also has signed documentation to sell its digital delivery assets to Technicolor; the deal is expected to formally close next month. … Discovery Access, the footage licensing division of Discovery Communications, is now offering stereoscopic 3D footage from animator Pixeldust Studios. … THX and Pacific University have opened a 3D Performance Eye Clinic to diagnose and treat eye coordination problems affecting 3D vision.
• Post-production tools provider Assimilate has opened a sales and technical support division in India. New division is led by Assimilate’s new director of sales for India, Prasenjit Sengupta. Sengupta was most recently sales director at Benchmark Micro Systems. Arun Kumar has also joined Assimilate from Benchmark/Kit Digital.