×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hollywood asks: Who’s minding the store?

MEMO TO: Hollywood’s Power Players

FROM: Peter Bart

I don’t want to interrupt anyone’s summer reverie, but I have an urgent question to put to you: Have any of you happened to notice that your industry is hurtling down the road to limbo land?

I am referring, of course, to the fact that actors and writers seem set to shut down Hollywood next year, with the directors not far behind.

Executives responsible for TV and film production already are scrambling to fill the pipelines before the Apocalypse. And they can’t quite figure out why their bosses are dozing.

That in itself underscores why this crisis differs from any that has gone before. The entire structure of show business has radically changed since the last labor traumas a generation ago.

The guilds and unions aren’t bargaining with humble studios and networks. They’re confronting global leviathans like Vivendi or Time Warner AOL — entities that are still in the process of defining their own structures and objectives.

THAT’S WHERE YOU COME IN, guys. Someone has to get the message to the lofty reaches of these mega-companies. It’s not a question of crying “wolf,” but rather of crying “help!”

The fact that we’re in this situation to begin with points up a key potential weakness of multinational corporations. Their interests are so vast, their scenarios so conflicting, that the potential shutting down of Hollywood may actually fall below the radar until the point of no return.

In years gone by, as you may recall, there was a fellow named Lew Wasserman who dealt with matters like this. Old Lew, the Medici of MCA, would corral his rival company heads and hammer out a modus vivendi with the unions. Lew was never shy about “persuading” dissidents to fall into line.

Someone would do well to visit Lew and solicit his advice. You can find him most days around noon, munching tuna in the far reaches of the Universal commissary, and he still spins some great war stories about Old Hollywood.

I suspect Lew would be impatient with the antagonistic, hard-line rhetoric of present-day studio negotiators, which seems intended to incite labor wars rather than ameliorate them.

The issues, to be sure, already are clouded by technological change. How will artists be compensated when their work is disseminated on the Internet? What constitutes proper payment when work appears overseas?

The process of eliciting the basic data on these issues itself is a difficult exercise. The so-called “residuals commission,” which represents the guilds, hopes to gain initial access to worldwide data within the next few weeks.

One reason the guilds are displaying a streak of paranoia is that they, too, realize the world has changed. Eight companies control 94% of primetime television. There are far fewer entities to compete for the talents of their artists.

Some cool heads exist in Hollywood, of course. A quiet effort is being made to engage the town’s more “reasonable” players — veterans like Barry Meyer of Warners or Mel Harris of Sony.

Even as this takes place, however, there’s an over-riding concern about the corporate titans, if and when they, too, become involved.

NO ONE WOULD EVER ACCUSE Rupert Murdoch of exhibiting empathy toward guilds or unions, for example. Is his company so vast that he can endure a strike rather than bend to labor demands? Disney, too, has traditionally been hard-nosed. Would Viacom or Time Warner AOL be peacemakers?

There are many in town who doubt it. Indeed, a certain fatalism has infiltrated the community which does not augur well for Hollywood’s future. The cost of a strike, or series of strikes, would be devastating, affecting not only those engaged directly in movies and TV — some 250,000 at last count — but also those in the myriad support mechanisms of the industry.

Even now the frenzy is growing as the town’s networks and studios try to mobilize enough product prior to D-Day. Some agents already are lifting their demands for key talent in response to this seller’s market, noting that they, too, might be out of business before long.

Hence the wake-up call, guys. It’s time to rattle some cages, to get the hierarchs to pay attention. After all, the job you save may be your own.

More Voices

  • Contract Placeholder Business

    WGA, Agents Face Tough Issues on New Franchise Pact (Column)

    The Writers Guild of America and the major talent agencies are seven weeks away from a deadline that could force film and TV writers to choose between their agents and their union. This is a battle that has been brewing for a year but few in the industry saw coming until a few weeks ago. [...]

  • FX Confronts Streaming Thanks to Disney

    Kicking and Screaming, FX Is Forced to Confront Future in the Stream (Column)

    During his network’s presentation at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, FX chief John Landgraf made waves — and headlines — by mounting perhaps his most direct criticism yet of Netflix. Landgraf, whose briefings to the press tend to rely heavily on data about the volume of shows with which FX’s competitors flood the [...]

  • Longtime TV Editor Recalls Working for

    How a Bad Director Can Spoil the Show (Guest Column)

    I have been blessed with editing some of TV’s greatest shows, working with some of the industry’s greatest minds. “The Wonder Years,” “Arrested Development,” “The Office,” “Scrubs,” “Pushing Daisies” and, most recently, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” I have earned an Emmy, ACE Eddie Awards, and many nominations. But whatever kudos I’ve received, over my [...]

  • Stock market Stock buyback

    Stock Buybacks Leave Firms Without Funds to Invest in Future (Column)

    Corporate giants on the S&P 500 have spent more than $720 billion during the past year on stock buybacks. Media and entertainment firms account for only a fraction of that spending, but even $1 million spent on share repurchases seems a foolhardy expenditure at this transformational moment for the industry. The record level of spending [...]

  • Hollywood Has Come Far With Diversity

    An Insider's Look at Hollywood's Diversity Efforts and How Far It Still Needs to Go

    I am a white man working in Hollywood. I grew up in Beverlywood, an all-white, predominantly Jewish, Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between 20th Century Fox Studios and MGM, where my elementary school had only one black student. I am compelled to write about diversity in Hollywood because “diversity” — in front of and behind the camera [...]

  • Venice Film Festival A Star is

    How Venice, Toronto and Telluride Festivals Stole Cannes' Luster (Column)

    In all the years I’ve been attending film festivals, I have never seen a lineup that looked as good on paper as Venice’s did this fall, boasting new films by Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Damien Chazelle (“First Man”), Paul Greengrass (“22 July”), Mike Leigh (“Peterloo”) and the Coen brothers (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) in competition, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content