Congratulations, LA Times!

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Posted by Charles on August 13, 1999 at 16:56:51:

This time, I mean it.

On the front page of today's Los Angeles Times, an article was published entitled "In Hollywood, More Business Than Show". It was authored by Claudia Eller and James Bates, the very same writers that wrote the infamous article about animation artists on 6-24-99.

Today's article was much more critical of studio executives than any article I've ever read. (Think our email campaign from a few weeks ago may have affected the change in attitude?)

It was very well done and addressed topics that are at the forefront of the what is happening in entertainment production.

I'll post a few of the more significant points the writers made:

Meet the studio head of of the new millenium: a corporate animal often trained as an accountant or lawyer. Guided by the bottom line, this breed is better at staying out of trouble than at courting star actors and directors.
In Hollywood's long struggle to balance art and commerce, the business side is winning in a rout. During the last five years, the gambler and go-by-the-gut mentality that historically characterized studio executives has been fading fast.
Reflecting that trend are the recent appointments of former lawyer Barry Meyer as a chairman of Warner Bros.; onetime CPA Brian Mulligan as co-chairman of Universal Pictures; and MGM's Chris McGurk, who once worked as a senior financial executive at Pepsi. All underscore a growing tendency among studio owners to put safe, "beancounting" managers in charge of their movie assets.
It's no wonder. Costs have been outstripping profits in the movie business, requiring top executives to cleverly stretch the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to their annual movie slates. Studio chiefs concoct endless risk-reducing schemes to finance films without threatening the balance sheet.
"In a business where there's always tension between the creative and the financial establishment, we're at a historical low point where the financial imperatives seem to far outweigh the creative urges," said Walt Disney Studios Chairman Joe Roth.
...Like his counterparts at other studios who have been curtailing spending and diversifying movie slates with less expensive films, Roth fears that the scales have tilted too far towards commerce.
Some critics fear that the ever narrowing constraints of today's studios stifle creativity, leading to even more formulaic filmmmaking.
Roth and Sony Pictures Chairman John Calley - both of whom heavily rely on their gut instincts when it comes to picking movies- know they are among a dying breed in a business that is retrenching. Both Roth and Calley are expected to voluntarily leave their jobs within the next year to produce.
...There are valid arguements to be made that Hollywood had to bring some fiscal sanity to a business that was veering out of control with budgets of $100 million or more for mediocre films.
...But several industry veterans said the movie business today is largely run by executives who are, as one put it, "defensively oriented."
Roth said, "I think the industry is in a highly defensive mode trying to couch every intuitive call with a defensive stategy to protect itself from losing too much money. It's less about the elation of taking a shot on a picture and having it work."
...It seems, however, that the most valued skill among Hollywood executives these days is an ability to stay out of trouble.
"Owners have lost their belief in the movie business, and the mentality is not how much you can make, but how little you can lose," (Tom) Pollack said. (Former head of Univesal Studios).
Some would argue that studios are wastelands when it comes to original ideas. Creativity is now subcontracted out in the same way studios hire companies to provide security services or do their electrical work.
...Indeed, one senior executive said that the role of the studio executive is increasingly like that of a book editor at a publishing house. Nearly finished works are delivered, which the executive may help fine-tune with suggestions.
This summer's surprise hit "The Blair Witch Project" - made outside the studio system for $150,000 and on its way to becoming one of the most profitable movies ever - suggests that filmmakers no longer rely on the major studios to get their products to market.
Artisan Entertainment, the tiny company that paid $1.1 million for worldwide rights to "Blair Witch" at this year's Sundance Film Festival, did an end-run around the Hollywood system in releasing the movie.
The distributor effectively used the Internet as a promotional tool to get young moviegoers excited about the movie.
"It's feeling like the '70s, where you don't need these big corporate structures anymore," said Roth, referring to the days when renegade young filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, Milos Foreman, Hal Ashby and Peter Bogdonovich were making films outside the studio system.
He and others predict that Hollywood is going to increasingly see movie outfits such as New Line and Miramax - companies that attract innovative filmmaking and don't carry the financial overheads and imperatives of the major studios though they are owned by them - become the new centers of creativity.


There you have it. A few of the major excerpts from the article.

Thanks, Ms. Eller and Mr. Bates. You've given many people new encouragement.

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