I like Ryan Kavanaugh.
I know it’s not cool to admit this at the moment when his investors are scratching around for whatever loose change is left over after his company’s collapse.
Relativity was going to be a “content engine” — not just a movie studio. Only it wasn’t.
But Kavanaugh himself believed the myth. He still does.
Let me come clean: I have hung with Ryan, had dinners with him, been to parties at his house, spent time with his girlfriends and wives, and always found him bright, good-spirited and thoughtful. I have also been mindful of the reality that Kavanaugh fulfilled the textbook definition of a hollyopath.
Hollyopathy is consistent with the syndrome of sociopathy with one important distinction. A hollyopath wants you to succeed, while a sociopath wants you to fail.
To be sure, both believe their own lies.
The entertainment community has always been a perfect feeding ground for the hollyopath. Michael Ovitz, who created CAA, would habitually approach prospective clients by intoning, “Tell me your dreams, and I will make them happen.” Ovitz wanted good things to happen, not because he was a generous spirit, but because he would benefit from your success.
A new book is out this week about how legendary agent Sue Mengers kept her clients on a perpetual hollyopathic cloud, convinced that fame and riches would continuously rain down on them.
Film budgets often represent exercises in institutional hollyopathy, going back to Spielberg’s budget for “Jaws.” In presenting their budgets, filmmakers calculate a number that their financial sources will want to hear, mindful that they are totally unrealistic (“Jaws” came in seven times overbudget).
In the political arena, Donald Trump is, in my mind, a deft hollyopathic strategist. I have spent enough time with him socially to be convinced that he believes what he says. Like a true sociopath, however, he lacks any sense of moral responsibility, and hence, if empowered, is capable of wreaking damage on those around him.
Ryan Kavanaugh, I believe, never wanted to harm anyone. In his 11 years of running Relativity, his content machine initiated divisions in film, sports, fashion, reality programming and even education. His Relativity School, a for-profit arts-oriented high school and four year college in Downtown L.A., planned to enroll 100 students next fall.
The Kavanaugh blueprint was seismic. He envisioned a studio in China and a vast filmmaking facility in Maui. Everyone would become part of the grand plan. Hence a client of Relativity Sports like Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan would themselves become content engines — with their own fashion lines, reality TV shows and starring film roles.
Now all of these grand plans are being sorted through by Wall Street’s bottom-feeders — the distressed-debt investors — who are searching for fragments of assets they can monetize or trade. As for Kavanaugh himself, he wants to stay on and preside over whatever is left. As his friends fully understand, he may have run out of money, but he hasn’t run out of hyperbole. Hollyopaths never do.
And meanwhile, Relativity’s legacy is the ultimate symbol of hollyopathy: a triumph of hype over reality. The hype was a lot more fun.